Live Briefing: Scott Pruitt on Capitol Hill: Round 3 in Progress


“I’m being asked, really constantly asked, to comment on housing and security and travel,” she said. “Instead of seeing articles about efforts to return your agency to its core mission, I’m reading articles about your interactions with the industries that you regulate. Some of this undoubtedly is a result of the ‘gotcha’ age, but I do think there are legitimate questions that need to be answered.’

Here’s what to watch for as Mr. Pruitt testifies.

What the Democrats are likely to ask

Democrats intend, as they did last month, to throw the kitchen sink at Mr. Pruitt. And they have plenty to ask about.

In the three weeks since Mr. Pruitt testified before the two House committees, the public has learned that the administrator has allowed lobbyists and Washington power brokers to arrange his foreign travel, that Mr. Pruitt’s aggressive effort to shroud his meetings and speaking engagements in secrecy was done primarily to avoid uncomfortable and unexpected questions and not out of a concern for security as his staff had claimed, and that E.P.A. aides took steps to conceal a dinner Mr. Pruitt held in Rome with Cardinal George Pell last year after they learned that the cardinal had been charged with sexual abuse.

That’s in addition to a raft of other longstanding questions about Mr. Pruitt’s first-class travel and the need for a 24-hour security detail of at least 20 people that has cost taxpayers more than $3 million so far.

Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the panel, said Wednesday that he had asked the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, to investigate whether the E.P.A. acted improperly when it appeared to mock Democrats on Twitter after the Senate voted to confirm the agency’s second-in-command, Andrew Wheeler.

The tweet, sent from the agency’s official account on April 13, said, “The Senate does its duty: Andrew Wheeler confirmed by Senate as deputy administrator of @EPA. The Democrats couldn’t block the confirmation of environmental policy expert and former EPA staffer under both a Republican and a Democrat president.” Mr. Udall asked the accountability office to issue a legal opinion on whether the tweet violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the use of federal funds for publicity or propaganda.

“This communication did nothing to further the public’s understanding of the environment or public health — and as an act of pure partisan taunting, the case is clear for why it represents a violation of federal law,” Mr. Udall said in a statement, adding, “We can add this investigation to the ever-expanding list of Scott Pruitt’s ethical transgressions.”

What Republicans are expected to talk about

This one is tougher. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, chairwoman of the appropriations committee’s environment panel, called for Mr. Pruitt to testify at a time when Republican support for Mr. Pruitt appeared to be on a downswing. Since then, however, Republicans have tamped down criticism of the E.P.A. chief.

Graphic

The Behavior That Put Scott Pruitt at the Center of Federal Inquiries

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency faces nearly a dozen federal inquiries into his practices. We break down the accusations by category.



OPEN Graphic


One notable exception is Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Mr. Grassley on Tuesday threatened to be the first Republican to call on Mr. Pruitt to resign, citing his frustration with the administrator over waivers the E.P.A. has given to small fuel refineries exempting them from a federal ethanol mandate on the nation’s gasoline. While Mr. Grassley is not a member of the committee that Mr. Pruitt will face, his concerns are shared by other corn-state Republicans and could become an issue at the hearing.

If past is prologue, though, Mr. Pruitt is likely to hear Republicans express concerns about his stewardship of E.P.A. in their opening statements but mostly draw attention to the regulatory rollbacks that they, and many of their constituents, support.

What Pruitt is expected to say

Last time around, Mr. Pruitt repeatedly shifted blame to members of his staff for the spending and ethical issues dogging him.

He said his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, had been solely responsible for giving $72,000 in raises to two aides who previously worked with Mr. Pruitt in Oklahoma. He said career staff members had signed off on spending $43,000 to install a secure phone booth, an expense that was ultimately found to violate federal law. And he said his security detail had insisted he fly first class for his own protection.

In one exchange with Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Mr. Pruitt had to be asked three times if he was the E.P.A. administrator before answering in the affirmative, but avoided answering whether the buck stopped with him.

“That’s not a yes or no answer,” Mr. Pruitt replied then. It’s a safe bet Mr. Pruitt will continue to tread as carefully Wednesday, and the E.P.A. spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, said in a statement that Mr. Pruitt remained focused on policy.

“From advocating to leave the Paris Accord, working to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States, declaring a war on lead and cleaning up toxic Superfund sites, Administrator Pruitt is focused on advancing President Trump’s agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship,” Mr. Wilcox said.

Where the president stands

President Trump has remained steadfast in his support for Mr. Pruitt, despite the arguments of several White House aides — including John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff — that the administrator should be fired. Asked last week if he still had confidence in Mr. Pruitt, the president replied, “I do.”

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Scott Pruitt, on Capitol Hill, Deflects Blame for Ethical Lapses


While Democrats, who have called for his resignation, sought to force Mr. Pruitt to accept culpability for a variety of ethical missteps, he denied knowledge of or responsibility for the actions in question. Republicans, after briefly chastising Mr. Pruitt in their opening remarks, asked friendly questions that appeared calculated to allow him to talk about his policy proposals.

As reports about Mr. Pruitt have continued to increase, some White House staff members have urged Mr. Trump to fire the E.P.A. chief. Some Republican leaders have called for his resignation, and many in Mr. Pruitt’s own party have called for investigations into his actions. But analysts who watched his performance on Thursday said he did well.

Representative Ken Calvert, Republican of California and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee where Mr. Pruitt testified in the afternoon, called the administrator’s appearance “very professional.”

Asked if Mr. Pruitt should resign he said, “No.”

Ultimately, of course, the only opinion about Mr. Pruitt’s fate that matters is the president’s.

“I think his effort will be well received by the president,” Mr. Maisano said. He has more explaining to do, but it was a good effort to mend fences. There were no lethal blows.”

Mr. Pruitt is now the subject of 10 federal investigations, including questions about his office’s illegal purchase of a secure phone booth, his condominium rental agreement with the wife of an energy lobbyist, and accusations that he demoted or sidelined E.P.A. employees who questioned his actions.

Committee Democrats queried him sharply about the reports of his ethical lapses and pressed Mr. Pruitt on his rollbacks of environmental rules, in particular, a new policy, proposed this week, that would limit the E.P.A.’s use of scientific research in crafting new health and environmental rules. Scientists have deplored the proposed rule, saying that it would significantly limit the agency’s use of rigorous science.

“Administrator Pruitt has brought secrecy, conflicts of interest and scandal to the E.P.A.,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Mr. Pruitt testified Thursday morning. “You are unfit to hold public office and undeserving of the public trust,” he said. “Every indication we have is you really should resign.”

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Mr. Pruitt at the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior and E.P.A., his second appearance before House members on Thursday.

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Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon and the chairman of the House Energy committee, offered light criticism before moving on to praising Mr. Pruitt for his efforts to roll back environmental regulations. “I am concerned that the good progress being made on the policy front is being undercut by allegations of your management of the agency and use of its resources,” he said. “These issues are too persistent to ignore.”

Conservative lawmakers from fossil-fuel producing states, who have long pushed for the rollback of E.P.A. regulations, bypassed even slight criticism of Mr. Pruitt, attributing the scrutiny on his actions to a political witch hunt.

Representative David B. McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, told Mr. Pruitt sympathetically that the attacks on him “have an echo of McCarthyism.”

In many ways, the past 14 months of Mr. Pruitt’s tenure has been building to this moment.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he made a name for himself aggressively battling the agency he now leads. Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation was fiercely opposed by Democrats, environmentalists and even E.P.A. employees. Since taking the helm of the agency, Mr. Pruitt has worked to strip the E.P.A. of funding, reduce its staff and curb its ability to develop new regulations on fossil fuel pollution.

No E.P.A. director in history has achieved Mr. Pruitt’s level of notoriety. Since the agency was formed, its administrators have been second-tier Washington figures. But Mr. Pruitt’s antagonism toward climate science has made him a nationally-prominent and divisive figure.

Critics said that more than the ethical and spending issues, the real damage to the E.P.A. has been Mr. Pruitt’s systematic weakening of the agency’s ability to protect the environment and public health. While Mr. Pruitt’s performance in Thursday’s hearings may make or break his future within the Trump administration, many said his legacy was already set.

“It’s just been a flagrant, shameless series of calculated decisions to dismantle the country’s most successful domestic enterprise,” William K. Reilly, who led the E.P.A. under the first President George Bush, said of Mr. Pruitt’s leadership. “It’s really a national tragedy,” he said.

Graphic

The Behavior That Put Scott Pruitt at the Center of Federal Inquiries

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency faces nearly a dozen federal inquiries into his practices. We break down the accusations by category.



OPEN Graphic


At Thursday morning’s hearing, Representative Joe Barton of Texas, who has long denied the overwhelming evidence of human effects on climate change, offered sympathy. “Mr. Pruitt, you’re not the first victim of Washington politics,” he said.

Democrats unsuccessfully sought to pin down Mr. Pruitt on questions about his expenditures, and to force him to accept culpability for some the actions now under investigation.

Representative Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat, asked about Mr. Pruitt’s soundproof booth, installed in his E.P.A. office at a cost of $43,000. The Government Accountability Office has ruled that the expenditure broke the law.

“I was not aware of the approval of the $43,000,” Mr. Pruitt told him, “and if I had known about it, congressman, I would not have approved it.”

Mr. Cárdenas responded that “if someone was spending $43,000 in my office, I would know about it.”

Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, launched into questions about Mr. Pruitt’s involvement in real estate deals in Oklahoma that have been reported in The New York Times, referring to the purchaser of his home as a “shell company.”

“It’s not a shell company,” he said quickly, and added that such financial structures were commonly used to purchase real estate in Oklahoma.

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Protesters interrupted Mr. Pruitt’s testimony during the morning hearing.

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Pete Marovich for The New York Times

She then asked Mr. Pruitt whether he had paid taxes on rent he received. He said the issue had been handed over to an accountant.

“I’m not doing this to hassle you. I’m doing this as an elected official,” Ms. DeGette said as she ended her questions. “Everything we do has to be to the highest ethical standards.”

Representative Paul Tonko, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy’s subcommittee on the Environment, pressed Mr. Pruitt on his claims that he was unaware that the E.P.A. had used an obscure legal provision to grant hefty raises to political appointees, bypassing approval by the White House. Mr. Pruitt has said the decision was taken by his chief of staff, Ryan Jackson.

“Did you authorize Mr. Jackson to sign those documents for you?” Mr. Tonko asked.

“I was not aware of the amount and I was not aware of the bypassing that was going on,” Mr. Pruitt replied.

Even some Republicans criticized Mr. Pruitt for repeatedly blaming his staff.

“If you say give me a phone booth, and your staff does it, you should say, I’m at fault,” said Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, the chairman of the House Energy subcommittee, speaking to reporters after the morning hearing. “It’s never good to blame your staff. Or at least do it behind closed doors.”

And Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat, used her turn at questioning to try to get Mr. Pruitt to accept culpability. “You have a solid record of violating ethics rules from the state level to the federal government,” she told Mr. Pruitt. “I think it’s an embarrassment.” And then she asked, “Do you have any remorse? Yes or no?”

Mr. Pruitt responded: “I think there are changes I’ve made already. I’ve made a change from first class to coach travel.” Ms. Eshoo returned to her call for a yes-or-no answer, and asked Mr. Pruitt whether he would reimburse the government. He launched into a long response, but she cut him off.

“With all due respect, I may be elected, but I’m not a fool,” she said. “This is not ‘dodge-question’ day.”

Correction: April 26, 2018

An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect home state for Representative John Shimkus. He represents Illinois, not Pennsylvania.

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He Called Out Sick, Then Apologized for Leaving This World


“He touched a lot of people,” Mr. Morales said. “We didn’t come from privilege, we came from the projects. He was a light in a lot of our lives.”

The act of self-immolation was so shocking, the loss so sudden, that friends and family of Mr. Buckel struggled on Sunday to make sense of his legacy, if not his death.

“He was very much someone who felt like he always wanted to make sure that while he was alive that he was doing more to make the world a better place,” his partner of nearly 34 years, Terry Kaelber said. “And he wanted to give more than he was taking from it.”

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Mr. Buckel, 60, was a nationally known civil rights lawyer and, in his final decade, a master composter at the Red Hook Community Farm in Brooklyn.

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Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Suicide is, ultimately, ineffable, and experts caution that there is a rarely a single reason people take their own lives; they say there are often underlying issues, such as mental illness.

His family and friends acknowledged that Mr. Buckel had become distraught recently over the national politics of climate change — “all that’s going on with the Trump administration and the rollback by Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency,” Mr. Kaelber said, referring to agency’s embattled administrator, Scott Pruitt.

In retrospect, Mr. Morales said he knew Mr. Buckel had been upset as recently as February when he began discussing articles about the environment, for instance one about how 96 percent of human beings breathe polluted air and another about the Arctic Circle experiencing record breaking temperatures.

Mr. Morales said two weeks ago Mr. Buckel sent him an email with all his contacts for the compost site, showing him how to complete paperwork, annual reports and other documents that would need to be turned over to city agencies.

With a back injury that limited his work, Mr. Buckel was struggling over what he could do next. Mr. Kaelber said he interpreted this “dramatic act” as “what can a person at age 60 do that people would pay attention to.”

Mr. Buckel started his career as a Legal Aid lawyer, and gained national prominence by arguing cases with Lambda Legal, an organization that fights for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Mr. Buckel was the lead lawyer in the case in which a Nebraska sheriff was found liable for failing to protect a transgender man who was murdered in Falls City, and was the strategist behind same-sex marriage cases in New Jersey and Iowa.

He retired from Lambda Legal in November 2008, and was a grant writer before starting at the composting site at the farm, across from an Ikea store. He felt composting was something that community members could do together to bring about a more sustainable world.

Mr. Buckel lived his message. He took showers with a minimum use of water, and walked one hour to work and back from his home at the edge of Prospect Park, rather than use fossil fuels. He refused even to use machines at the composting site, evidence of a passion that friends say was his true fuel.

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Mr. Buckel’s death was, according to his suicide letter, to make a statement about actively protecting the environment.

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Yana Paskova for The New York Times

“I think he had a purity of spirit that was not a possibility in this world and that pained him very much,” said Marisa DeDominicis, the executive director of Earth Matter, which composts on Governors Island.

Erik Martig went to YouTube to remember his mentor, who had made a series of instructional videos for the tight-knit community of urban composters. In his typical calm and methodical manner, Mr. Buckel explained how to make neat, rat-proof compost piles with pitchforks, shovels and teamwork.

“This is the David Buckel that I knew,” said Mr. Martig, 34, who worked with Mr. Buckel at the farm.

“I struggle to believe that this is a protest suicide. I think that, underneath, he’s got to be in a very dark place, it’s not characteristic of David,” he added.

On a grim Sunday, neighbors gathered at Mr. Buckel’s home.

George Bachman, a retired firefighter, would greet him tending his garden on a quiet stretch south of Prospect Park. His 16-year-old daughter knew Mr. Buckel’s college-age daughter, Hannah.

He knew the history of Mr. Buckel’s kind of suicide, but was perplexed. “I’m a Vietnam veteran so I’m well aware,” Mr. Bachman said. “Buddhist monks used to light themselves up in protest of the war.”

Mr. Buckel alluded in his letter to the self-immolation of Tibetans as protest against China’s government.

Tom and Isa Cucinotta of Lefferts Gardens spent a few minutes in silence at the site in Prospect Park where Mr. Buckel died. They did not know him, but they felt a kinship with him and his despair with the current state of the world.

“It feels important because he was one of the people able to do something about these injustices. He was successful, whereas we can only do little things,” Ms. Cucinotta said. “It feels like he has given up. What does that mean for the rest of us?”

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Lawmakers’ Letter Claims Further Spending Abuses by the E.P.A. Head, Scott Pruitt


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Scott Pruitt, right, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, at a cabinet meeting at the White House this week.

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Tom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, insisted on staying in luxury hotels that were costlier than allowed by government standards, while also pushing to fly on an airline not on the government’s approved list so he could accrue more frequent flier miles, one of his top former deputies at the agency has told congressional investigators.

The new allegations are detailed in a scathing six-page letter signed by two senators and three House lawmakers — all Democrats — whose staff members met this week with Kevin Chmielewski, who served as the E.P.A.’s deputy chief of staff until he was removed from his post after raising objections to this and other spending.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., said, “We will respond to members of Congress through the proper channel.”

Mr. Chmielewski told congressional staff members during a meeting this week that Mr. Pruitt would often seek to schedule trips back to Oklahoma, where he still owns a home, so he could stay there for weekends. “Find me something to do,” were the instructions Mr. Pruitt gave his staff, after telling them he wanted to travel to particular destinations, the letter says, quoting Mr. Chmielewski, who was expected to sign off on the trips.

When planning a trip to Italy, Mr. Pruitt “refused to stay at hotels recommended by the U.S. Embassy, although the recommended hotel had law enforcement and other U.S. resources on site,” according to the letter, which was written and sent to Mr. Pruitt, asking him to turn over documents related to the letter’s claims. Instead, Mr. Pruitt chose to stay “at more expensive hotels with fewer standard security resources,” while bringing along his own security team “at taxpayer expense.”

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Kevin Chmielewksi at the lectern at a Trump rally in Berlin, Md., in 2016.

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Stewart Dobson/Ocean City Today

For other trips, Mr. Pruitt pushed the agency to book him on Delta, even though it is not the federal government’s contract carrier, “because you want to accrue more frequent flier miles,” the letter says.

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Senators: E.P.A. Files Undercut Pruitt’s Need for First-Class Travel


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Scott Pruitt in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Monday.

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Tom Brenner/The New York Times

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WASHINGTON — An assessment of threats aimed at Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, conducted by the agency’s Homeland Security office in February, undercuts claims made by Mr. Pruitt’s security team to justify millions of dollars in security expenditures, according to an internal document obtained by a Senate Democrat.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island wrote in a letter on Tuesday to John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, that the E.P.A.’s Homeland Security Intelligence Team reviewed an October memo and found no specific credible threats to the administrator. The October memo was created by Mr. Pruitt’s protective security detail, led by Pasquale Perrotta, who is known as Nino, and was used to justify much of Mr. Pruitt’s large security detail and first-class travel.

The same February assessment described repeated efforts by E.P.A. intelligence officials to tell the agency’s inspector general and senior leadership “that ‘the threat’ to the Administrator was being inappropriately mischaracterized” by Mr. Pruitt’s security detail, Mr. Whitehouse wrote in the letter, sent jointly with Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat of Delaware.

“It is hard to reconcile the public statements of E.P.A., and the President, with these internal and external assessments,” Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Carper wrote. They also acknowledged, though, that the materials may be incomplete.

The documents weren’t publicly released with the letter, they said, in order to protect any current security efforts that may be in effect.

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In His Haste to Roll Back Rules, Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Chief, Risks His Agenda


The courts, for instance, found that the E.P.A. had ignored clear legal statutes when they ruled that Mr. Pruitt had illegally delayed a regulation curbing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells and that the agency had broken the law by missing a deadline last year to enact ozone restrictions.

In other cases — including one in which a federal court ordered the E.P.A. to act on a Connecticut request to reduce pollution from a Pennsylvania power plant, and one where judges demanded quick action from the agency on new lead paint standards — the courts warned Mr. Pruitt that avoiding enacting regulations already on the books was an inappropriate effort to repeal a rule without justifying the action.

“The E.P.A. has a clear duty to act,” a panel of judges of the San Francisco-based Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit wrote in a 2-1 decision finding that the agency must revise its lead paint standards in 90 days, as regulations required. The agency had tried to delay the revisions for six years.

In an interview on Friday, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Mr. Trump felt that Mr. Pruitt had done a satisfactory job at the EPA. Her comments suggested that Mr. Pruitt’s work checking off items on the president’s agenda — including rolling back a large number of environmental protections — may weigh heavily as a counterbalance to the ethics questions related to his travel expenses, management practices and his rental of a living space from the wife of a prominent lobbyist.

Describing Mr. Trump’s view of Mr. Pruitt, she said: “He likes the work product.”

Liz Bowman, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, disputed the criticisms of the agency’s work. “E.P.A. does its due diligence, consults with O.M.B. and other federal agencies to ensure that its work is legally defensible,” she said in an email, referring to the Office of Management and Budget, the office that coordinates and evaluates policy across the executive branch.

One of the chief examples cited by Mr. Pruitt’s critics came this week when the E.P.A. filed its legal justification for what is arguably the largest rollback of an environmental rule in the Trump administration: the proposed undoing of an Obama-era regulation aimed at cutting pollution of planet-warming greenhouse gases from vehicle tailpipes.

Mr. Pruitt made his case for the rollback in a 38-page document filed on Tuesday that, experts say, was devoid of the kind of supporting legal, scientific and technical data that courts have shown they expect to see when considering challenges to regulatory changes.

“There’s an incredible lack of numbers,” said James McCargar, a former senior policy analyst at the E.P.A. who worked on vehicle emissions programs and remains in close touch with career staffers who work on those programs. “If this gets challenged in court, I just don’t see how they provide anything that gives a technical justification to undo the rule.”

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Protesters the E.P.A. this month. Environmental groups have cheered the agency’s losses in the courts on regulation rollbacks concerning issues like pesticides and lead paint.

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Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

The rules Mr. Pruitt is targeting would require automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of passenger vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Automakers have argued the rule is onerous, forcing them to invest heavily in building hybrid and electric vehicles.

As part of the process, Mr. Pruitt filed the 38-page document, which is meant to supply the government’s legal justification for rolling back the rule. About half the document consists of quotations from automakers laying out their objections to the rule. By comparison, the Obama administration’s 1,217-page document justifying its implementation of the regulation included technical, scientific and economic analyses justifying the rule.

Experts in environmental policy said the lack of analytical arguments in this week’s E.P.A. filing surprised them. “This document is unprecedented,” said Mr. McCargar, the former E.P.A. senior policy analyst. “The E.P.A. has just never done anything like this.”

John M. DeCicco, a professor of engineering and public policy at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, said the filing was a departure from the practices of previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

“A president or an administrator or somebody can’t just say, ‘I’m going to change the rule,’ without justifying it very, very carefully,” Mr. DeCicco said. “As a scientist who’s worked on these issues, I’m saying, where are the numbers? Where’s the data?”

Most of the document consists of arguments quoting directly from public comments made by automaker lobbyists, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Global Automakers, that the pollution rules will be unduly burdensome on the auto industry, as well as public comments from Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi.

While it does include arguments opposing the regulatory rollback from groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the state of California, it does not contain what environmental experts say is the critical element of a legally strong justification for changing an E.P.A. regulation: Technical analysis of both sides of the argument leading to a conclusion aimed at persuading a judge that the change is defensible.

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Seth Michaels, a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists, suggested that, in its reuse of arguments by the automakers’ lobby, the emissions-rollback document echoed Mr. Pruitt’s modus operandi when he was the Oklahoma Attorney General.

“It’s reminiscent of the 2011 letter Scott Pruitt sent as Oklahoma AG to the E.P.A., in which he took a letter drafted by layers for Devon Energy and stuck his name on it with minimal edits,” Mr. Michaels said.

A 2014 investigation by The Times found that lobbyists for Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, drafted letters for Mr. Pruitt to send to the E.P.A., the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget and President Obama, outlining the economic hardship of various environmental rules.

Between 2011 and 2017, Mr. Pruitt filed suit against the E.P.A. 14 times, and lost almost all of the cases.

Most were filed in conjunction with the Republican attorneys general of a dozen or more other states, making it difficult to know precisely which legal arguments his office contributed, legal experts said. Mr. Pruitt frequently took a lead role in the cases.

In the end, “a lot of those arguments were losers,” said Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University.

In particular, Mr. Revesz noted a case brought by the group against President Obama’s signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan, which Mr. Pruitt is now working to overturn from within the E.P.A. The lawsuit challenged a draft proposal of the regulation, which was an unprecedented move that a federal court quickly struck down, saying that they could not legally challenge a draft.

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A site operated by Devon Energy near Stillwater, Okla. A 2014 investigation by The Times found that lobbyists for Devon had drafted letters for Mr. Pruitt to send to President Barack Obama.

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Nick Oxford for The New York Times

While the attorneys general, including Mr. Pruitt, garnered media attention for the case, “The argument they had was ludicrous,” Mr. Revesz said.

The group did, however, score one major victory: After the Obama administration issued its final version of the Clean Power Plan, it successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to temporarily halt implementation of the rule.

Since taking the helm of E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt has barnstormed the country, meeting with farmers, coal miners and local leaders and promising an end to his predecessor’s regulatory approach. He also has favored closed-door policy speeches to conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation, to roll out policy initiatives.

The Heritage Foundation was the venue Mr. Pruitt chose this year to say that he would make changes to how scientific studies are considered at the agency. Both critics and supporters of Mr. Pruitt said that, by making the proposal in a political fashion rather than changing the rules in a quieter but potentially more lasting way means that changes like these are more vulnerable to being undone by a future administration.

Environmental groups have welcomed Mr. Pruitt’s court losses. Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club, said she was pleased by what she called “sloppy” and “careless” E.P.A. legal work. “It’s fine with us,” she said. “Do a bad job repealing these things, because then we get to go to court and win.”

Thomas J. Pyle, a supporter of Mr. Pruitt’s and the president of the Institute for Energy Research, a think tank that promotes fossil fuels, described that as spin. “The environmental left portrays Scott Pruitt as a devil incarnate in their fund-raising solicitations, yet brag about how ineffective he is in dismantling Obama’s climate rules,” he said. “Which is it?”

Still, some conservatives said they were worried that Mr. Pruitt was more interested in media attention than policy and feared more legal losses. “If the goal is to generate temporary relief and to make a splash, then what they’re doing is terrifically fine,” said Jonathan H. Adler, director of the Center for Business Law & Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

But if the Trump administration wants to permanently change the regulatory environment for business, he said, the E.P.A. cannot take such a “quick and dirty approach” to unraveling regulations. “I’m suspicious that two, three years down the road there’s going to be much to show for all the fireworks we’re getting now,” Mr. Adler said.

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Calling Standards ‘Too High,’ E.P.A. Moves to Relax Car Pollution Rules


Mr. Pruitt’s challenge raised the specter of a sharply divided auto market in the United States: one with cleaner cars in California and in states that follow its lead, and another with higher-polluting cars concentrated in the middle of the country.

That could pose a logistical challenge for automakers, requiring substantially different car designs, sending the American auto industry into uncharted territory.

Mary Nichols, California’s top air pollution regulator, vowed to defend the state’s stricter rules.

“This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean vehicle standards,” said Ms. Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. California, she said, “will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards.”

The E.P.A. has not said how far those rules should be rolled back, only that it would start a new rule-making process to set “more appropriate” standards.

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Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced the plan in a news release.

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Tom Brenner/The New York Times

Mr. Pruitt was expected to publicly announce the effort on Tuesday at a Chevrolet dealership in suburban Virginia. But those plans have been complicated by an angry pushback from some dealerships who do not want to be associated with the announcement, according to two Chevy dealers who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing their relationship with General Motors.

“They don’t want the E.P.A. to highlight Chevy,” said Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls, which runs Nissan, Honda and Chrysler dealerships in Maine, and is close to the Chevy dealerships’ thinking. “They don’t want to be the bad guys.”

“Trump has been saying these standards are crushing the auto industry. But we’ve had record years for the past four or five years, in terms of sales and profit,” he added. “So I’m not sure what he’s thinking. It almost makes you think he doesn’t have the facts.”

In its defense of the Obama-era rules, California was joined Monday by a coalition of at least seven state attorneys-general, including Eric Schneiderman of New York, as well as more than 30 mayors, who said they would “vigorously resist” any effort by the Trump administration to prevent states and cities from enforcing emissions standards.

“We are committed to using our market power and our regulatory authority to ensure that the vehicle fleets deployed in our jurisdictions fully meet or exceed the promises made by the auto industry in 2012,” the coalition announced.

Environmental groups also assailed the move.

“The Trump administration’s decision will take America backward by jeopardizing successful safeguards that are working to clean our air, save drivers money at the pump, and drive technological innovation that creates jobs,” Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

“The American public overwhelmingly supports strong vehicle standards because they cut the cost of driving, reduce air pollution, and combat climate change. Backing off now is irresponsible and unwarranted.”

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Editorial: Congress Resists the President, for a Change


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Credit
Andrea Bruce for The New York Times

In this time of political division, the broad story line of the omnibus spending bill approved late last week is largely a heartening one. With the Democratic leadership in full resistance mode and the Republicans facing a treacherous political climate in the fall elections, Congress repudiated President Trump’s extreme budget cuts in rare bipartisan fashion. In doing so, it protected a range of domestic programs the president had targeted for huge reductions, if not outright elimination, and sent an infuriated Mr. Trump scuttling off to Mar-a-Lago with yet another problem to worry about: a mediocre Congress making a lazy president look even worse by actually accomplishing something.

A cynic observing this unusual Capitol Hill lovefest could plausibly argue that it’s easy enough for Republicans and Democrats to link arms when there’s serious money to be spent. And it is: There is plenty of old-fashioned pork in this bill. Even so, it is hard to argue with an outcome that preserved and in some cases increased funding for vital health, education, foreign aid, infrastructure and environmental programs while providing a fraction of what Mr. Trump wanted for his border wall — the presumed reason for his choleric withdrawal to his Florida fortress.

There is another story line within the broader one, and it too is heartening: the willingness of the Democratic leadership to stand up to mischief-makers in Congress itself. A bill of this magnitude —$1.3 trillion altogether, including hundreds of billions for the military — is fertile ground for legislators who wish to sneak in provisions that are unlikely to survive on their own and thus need the protective cover of a big must-pass bill. As a rule, these so-called riders have nothing to do with spending and are aimed primarily at changing policy or undermining basic laws.

Most of the most damaging riders in the bill were devised by Republicans and involved environmental policy. Among other things, they would have delayed enforcement of clean-air regulations, killed two Obama-era rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gases from oil and gas wells, weakened protections for endangered species and insulated the Trump administration from legal challenges to its efforts to repeal clean-water rules.

That these and many more riders were deleted from the bill is a tribute to Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Senate allies like Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Thomas Carper of Delaware, all willing to annoy some powerful interests along the way. Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska and chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had hoped to torpedo protections for old growth trees in Alaska’s forests. Thad Cochran, Republican from Mississippi, had hoped for a retirement present after 40 years in the Senate in the form of a flood-control project known as the Yazoo Pumps, a bad idea that has been kicking around for decades and would drain 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Mississippi Delta so that soybean farmers, who have drunk liberally from the public trough, could plant more crops. Both he and Ms. Murkowski were denied.

The budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, which Mr. Trump proposed to cut by 31 percent, stayed even. Funding for energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs, facing a 70 percent cut, went up. Money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a vehicle for protecting threatened open space, rose to $425 million, far more than the $64 million in the president’s budget.

Continue reading the main story

Editorial: Congress Resists the President, for a Change


Photo


Credit
Andrea Bruce for The New York Times

In this time of political division, the broad story line of the omnibus spending bill approved late last week is largely a heartening one. With the Democratic leadership in full resistance mode and the Republicans facing a treacherous political climate in the fall elections, Congress repudiated President Trump’s extreme budget cuts in rare bipartisan fashion. In doing so, it protected a range of domestic programs the president had targeted for huge reductions, if not outright elimination, and sent an infuriated Mr. Trump scuttling off to Mar-a-Lago with yet another problem to worry about: a mediocre Congress making a lazy president look even worse by actually accomplishing something.

A cynic observing this unusual Capitol Hill lovefest could plausibly argue that it’s easy enough for Republicans and Democrats to link arms when there’s serious money to be spent. And it is: There is plenty of old-fashioned pork in this bill. Even so, it is hard to argue with an outcome that preserved and in some cases increased funding for vital health, education, foreign aid, infrastructure and environmental programs while providing a fraction of what Mr. Trump wanted for his border wall — the presumed reason for his choleric withdrawal to his Florida fortress.

There is another story line within the broader one, and it too is heartening: the willingness of the Democratic leadership to stand up to mischief-makers in Congress itself. A bill of this magnitude —$1.3 trillion altogether, including hundreds of billions for the military — is fertile ground for legislators who wish to sneak in provisions that are unlikely to survive on their own and thus need the protective cover of a big must-pass bill. As a rule, these so-called riders have nothing to do with spending and are aimed primarily at changing policy or undermining basic laws.

Most of the most damaging riders in the bill were devised by Republicans and involved environmental policy. Among other things, they would have delayed enforcement of clean-air regulations, killed two Obama-era rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gases from oil and gas wells, weakened protections for endangered species and insulated the Trump administration from legal challenges to its efforts to repeal clean-water rules.

That these and many more riders were deleted from the bill is a tribute to Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Senate allies like Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Thomas Carper of Delaware, all willing to annoy some powerful interests along the way. Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska and chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had hoped to torpedo protections for old growth trees in Alaska’s forests. Thad Cochran, Republican from Mississippi, had hoped for a retirement present after 40 years in the Senate in the form of a flood-control project known as the Yazoo Pumps, a bad idea that has been kicking around for decades and would drain 200,000 acres of wetlands in the Mississippi Delta so that soybean farmers, who have drunk liberally from the public trough, could plant more crops. Both he and Ms. Murkowski were denied.

The budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, which Mr. Trump proposed to cut by 31 percent, stayed even. Funding for energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs, facing a 70 percent cut, went up. Money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a vehicle for protecting threatened open space, rose to $425 million, far more than the $64 million in the president’s budget.

Continue reading the main story