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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Pruitt’s Coziness With Lobbyists Includes Secretly Buying a House With One


Mr. Pruitt’s business relationship with Mr. Whitefield has not been previously reported. A spokesman for the E.P.A. said that Mr. Whitefield held a one-sixth stake in the company and had “received taxable income” from it. Two of the other owners, The Times previously reported, were Kenneth Wagner, a law school friend of Mr. Pruitt’s who now holds a top political job at the E.P.A., and Jon Jiles, a health care executive who contributed to Mr. Pruitt’s political campaigns.

“Whitefield was a practicing lawyer who had business in Oklahoma City,” said the spokesman, Jahan Wilcox. “Pruitt was a practicing lawyer and a part-time legislator who only stayed in the house when he was in Oklahoma City for business.”

Mr. Whitefield died in a plane crash in 2006. A relative confirmed to the The Times that he had shared the home with Mr. Pruitt.

Mr. Pruitt is now facing 11 federal investigations into matters including his condominium rental in Washington and his spending on travel and security at the E.P.A. The Times reported on Tuesday that Mr. Pruitt had allowed another lobbyist friend to play an unusually central role in arranging his agenda during a visit to Morocco in December. Just months after the trip, the Moroccan government hired the lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, as a $40,000-a-month foreign agent.

Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Whitefield and the other investors in the shell company bought the Oklahoma City home in December 2003 for $375,000, a discount of about $100,000 from what Ms. Lindsey had paid a year earlier. Her employer, the telecom giant SBC Oklahoma, now AT&T and formerly known as Southwestern Bell, used a relocation firm to handle the sale and picked up the shortfall under her retirement package. AT&T said the home had been appraised twice, for an average value of $390,000, before the sale.

A month later, in January 2004, Mr. Pruitt held a news conference at the State Capitol to announce a bill that he said would reduce workers’ compensation costs for businesses by eliminating unnecessary litigation.

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The agenda for Mr. Pruitt’s visit to Morocco in December was also influenced by his lobbyist ties.

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Environmental Protection Agency

In a news release, he cited figures from the National Council on Compensation Insurance, a workers’ compensation industry group, which said his proposal would save employers in Oklahoma at least $100 million. At the time, Mr. Whitefield was a lobbyist for the group, according to state disclosures.

Mr. Whitefield later became a registered lobbyist for Oklahomans for Workers’ Compensation Reform, a political committee co-chaired by Mr. Funk, the businessman who owned the minor league baseball team with Mr. Pruitt and several others.

Mr. Funk attended the news conference in January 2004, and a February 2005 update from the political committee, co-written by Mr. Funk, noted Mr. Pruitt’s work on legislation that would cut “litigation and the expensive cost drivers that are present in our lawyer-rich system.”

The workers’ compensation battle played out for years in Oklahoma, and news reports at the time referred to Mr. Pruitt as a leading Republican in dealing with Democrats and the governor’s office on the issue. Ultimately, after a partisan struggle, a compromise bill was signed into law in June 2005, with Mr. Pruitt as a main negotiator.

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Mr. Pruitt in 2004, when he served in the Oklahoma Senate.

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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Mr. Pruitt described the outcome as “a small step in the right direction,” according to a report at the time in The Journal Record, a business and legal newspaper in Oklahoma. But when he ran for lieutenant governor in 2006, he cited his efforts on workers’ compensation among his main achievements. Mr. Funk served as the chairman of that unsuccessful campaign.

When Mr. Pruitt left the State Senate that year, his fellow lawmakers applauded his advocacy on workers’ compensation. In his parting remarks, Mr. Pruitt told colleagues: “I’ve always tried to approach what we do here in this body with a commitment to sound policy and trying to do things for the right reason. I believe that good politics is doing the right thing.”

Mr. Pruitt and the other investors in the shell company — Capitol House L.L.C. — sold the Oklahoma City house in 2005 for $470,000. It is unclear whether any of the proceeds went to Mr. Pruitt. The group also had at least one paying tenant, Jim Dunlap, then a Republican leader in the State Senate, who said he rented a room above the garage.

Mr. Jiles, the investor who is listed as manager of Capitol House, said in an email that each investor owned 16.66 percent of the company, and while none of them lived permanently in the house, they all had a right to stay there. The company, he said, should not be referred to as a shell company since it “acquired assets consisting of the house and its furnishings and incurred liabilities, filed tax returns and issued K-1’s to it’s members as required by law” — a reference the tax form known as a Schedule K-1.

“Nothing about the transaction, Capital House, L.L.C. or the investment was unusual, inappropriate, illegal or otherwise objectionable to anyone involved on either side of the transaction,” Mr. Jiles said.

At a hearing last week in Washington of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, lawmakers asked Mr. Pruitt about the house purchase and the use of a shell company — a lawful practice that is often used to obscure the people who have a financial interest in it, and typically is set up as a limited liability company. Mr. Pruitt’s name does not appear on any public documents related to the company; nor does Mr. Whitefield’s.

Mr. Pruitt said the company was not a shell company, but a limited liability company.

“Which is normally how you buy real estate in Oklahoma,” he said.

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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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Craft Distillers, Facing Lower Taxes, Invest in Themselves


But the tax cut is having its biggest impact with small craft distillers, most of which turn out less than 100,000 gallons a year and struggle to compete with larger companies. And it is evidence of their growing political clout as distilling becomes a significant source of jobs and tax revenue in every state.

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Since the federal tax bill passed, New York Distilling Company has lowered the wholesale price for Perry’s Tot, its “Navy strength” gin.

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Cole Wilson for The New York Times

The backing for the move attested to that geographical and political reach. By the time the amendment — introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon and Wisconsin — was adopted in a final version by Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, it had collected 304 co-sponsors in the House and 56 in the Senate.

“This is a tremendous change from where we were in the past, fighting tax increases,” said Frank Coleman, a senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, a trade association representing American producers and marketers. “Up until recently, the efforts on taxes at the federal level were entirely defensive.”

The victory was not achieved without a great deal of legwork. Dozens of distillers joined in a multiyear effort to win over Congress members to the idea. The Distilled Spirits Council estimated it organized thousands of visits to the Hill.

“We encouraged our members small and large to invite their local officials at all levels of government to take a tour,” Mr. Coleman said. “Many have done so, in the process learning about how spirits are made, how they fit into the agricultural economy.”

In two visits to Washington, Christian Krogstad, the founder of House Spirits, spoke with several lawmakers during appointments and what he called “drop-ins.”

“I was surprised by how accessible senators and congressmen are,” he said.

The bill brings federal taxes on spirits into line with those for the wine and beer businesses, which won similar reductions. To achieve that, the three industries — normally rivals — combined their lobbying forces.

“This was an unprecedented collaboration by spirits, wine and beer producers,” said Mark Gorman, a senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council.

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Barrels in which New York Distilling ages rye and other spirits. The company has hired its first full-time salesman.

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Cole Wilson for The New York Times

In response, New York Distilling Company, in Brooklyn, has done something just as unusual: lowering prices.

Allen Katz, a founder, wanted to get Perry’s Tot, its “Navy strength” gin, into more bars and consumers’ homes. The tax cut allowed him to reduce the wholesale price, per bottle, to $18 from $29. With by-the-case discounts, the wholesale price drops further, to $14, and some merchants have cut retail prices to as low as $23.

“I would say the reaction from our industry peers has been jaw-dropping,” Mr. Katz said. “ ‘You’re offering it at what price?’ ” In March, sales of Perry’s Tot doubled. (The company has also hired its first full-time salesman.)

The excise-tax break for spirits is set to expire after two years. Because it may not be renewed, few distillers have gone so far as to lower prices. “I think that’s reckless,” Mr. Winters said. “If the tax break goes away, than the price break goes away.”

Mr. Katz doesn’t see it that way. “The driving force will be increased sales,” he said, “and from that revenue, we will further invest in equipment and other aspects in our business.”

There is a chance, however, that the break will be made permanent. In May, the lobbying campaign will begin anew, with distillers flooding Capitol Hill once more.

“We’re going to go to D.C. to show them all the good stuff we’re doing,” said Paul Hletko, the founder of Few Spirits.

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Scott Pruitt Before the E.P.A.: Fancy Homes, a Shell Company and Friends With Money


According to real estate records, the 2003 purchase of the house for $375,000 came at a steep discount of about $100,000 from what Ms. Lindsey had paid a year earlier — a shortfall picked up by her employer, the telecom giant SBC Oklahoma.

SBC, previously known as Southwestern Bell and later as AT&T, had been lobbying lawmakers in the early 2000s on a range of matters, including a deregulation bill that would allow it to raise rates and a separate regulatory effort to reopen a case involving allegations that it had bribed local officials a decade earlier. Mr. Pruitt sided with the company on both matters, state records show.

In 2005, the shell company — Capitol House L.L.C. — sold the property for $95,000 more than it had paid. While shell companies are legal, they often obscure the people who have an interest in them, and none of Mr. Pruitt’s financial disclosure filings in Oklahoma mentioned the company or the proceeds — a potential violation of the state’s ethics rules.

The Oklahoma City deal, which has not been previously reported, was one of several instances in which Mr. Pruitt appeared to have benefited from his relationships with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner while in state politics.

During his eight years as a Republican state senator, Mr. Pruitt also upgraded his family residence in suburban Tulsa from a small ranch-style home to a lakefront property in a gated community. In addition, he bought a sizable stake in a minor league baseball team, and took a second job at Mr. Wagner’s corporate law firm. Mr. Kelly’s bank, SpiritBank, would be there for much of it — providing financing for Mr. Pruitt’s Tulsa home and his stake in the baseball team, as well as the mortgage for the Oklahoma City house.

Mr. Pruitt’s interactions with SBC also show that his blurring of lines with lobbyists has roots in his Oklahoma years. One of the issues at the E.P.A. that has gotten Mr. Pruitt in trouble with government watchdogs involved his renting a room in Washington for $50 a night from the wife of an energy lobbyist who has had business in front of the agency.

Lobbyists and others in Oklahoma state politics who encountered Mr. Pruitt recalled him as a tough competitor who always had his eye on a higher office. Some called him a “Boy Scout” who was stingy with his money, while others said privately that he had exuded a sense of entitlement — that rules did not apply to him.

David Walters, a former Oklahoma governor and Democrat, described Mr. Pruitt as someone who looked out for himself over the needs of constituents, especially during his years as attorney general.

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“For those ego-minded politicians, it would be pretty cool to have this house close to the capitol,” said Marsha Lindsey, the lobbyist who previously owned the home.

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Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

“I was disappointed to find him operating in a hyperpartisan manner and seemingly representing corporate interests over Oklahoma citizens,” Mr. Walters said.

In response to questions submitted by The New York Times about Mr. Pruitt’s finances in Oklahoma, an E.P.A. spokeswoman said Mr. Pruitt’s business dealings with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Wagner “were ethical” and his stake in the shell company “was a simple real estate investment.”

“Mr. Wagner and Mr. Kelly left high-profile positions in law and banking in Oklahoma, to serve in the administration,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “They are dedicated E.P.A. employees who have earned the respect and admiration of E.P.A. career employees across the country. They serve the country professionally, and transparently — and are committed to ensuring the programs they work on are successful.”

Rubbing Shoulders in Oklahoma City

The house on Northeast 17th Street in the historic Lincoln Terrace neighborhood here was built in 1928 and has a grand staircase and an arched doorway. Ms. Lindsey said one of the home’s attractions was that it looked out on the white dome of the State Capitol.

Mr. Pruitt stayed in the house for parts of 2004 and 2005, neighbors said. The residence put him within walking distance of his job — legislators worked only part of the year, mainly from February through May — and also near SBC Bricktown Ballpark, which was home to his baseball team, the RedHawks, now known as the Dodgers.

Jim Dunlap, then a Republican leader in the State Senate, said he rented a room from Mr. Pruitt above the garage. He was under the impression that Mr. Pruitt had bought the home as an investment with a group of lawyers, he said.

“This was a place where you slept and had dinner,” Mr. Dunlap said. “It was all above board.”

Oklahoma campaign disclosures filed by Mr. Pruitt at the time made no mention of the home purchase or the rental agreement with Mr. Dunlap. Real estate records show that the transfer of ownership from Ms. Lindsey, the lobbyist, was rather complicated and involved multiple steps — none of them with any public reference to Mr. Pruitt, though the E.P.A. spokeswoman confirmed that he was one of five co-owners of the shell company.

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The shell company was registered to Kenneth Wagner, an E.P.A. aide and law school friend of Mr. Pruitt’s.

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Maryland Department of Natural Resources

When asked whether such a disclosure would be necessary, the executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, Ashley Kemp, referred The Times to a 2005 ethics manual. The rules required disclosing “every business or entity” in which an official held securities valued at $5,000 or more. Securities were defined to include “documents that represent a share in a company.”

The E.P.A. spokeswoman did not respond to questions about Mr. Pruitt’s disclosure filings in Oklahoma.

In November 2003, Ms. Lindsey signed the deed of the home over to a relocation company SBC had hired to handle her move and severance. She was reimbursed for close to $475,000, the amount she had paid for the house in 2002, as her contract required, she said.

The next day, the relocation company signed the property over to Jon Jiles, a health care executive who has a range of business interests and made contributions to Mr. Pruitt’s political campaigns. Records show no mortgage was involved, and Mr. Jiles paid $375,000 in cash.

That December, Mr. Wagner officially registered the Capitol House shell company with the Oklahoma authorities, and Mr. Jiles transferred the deed to the newly formed company. Mr. Jiles was listed as a manager of Capitol House, and Mr. Wagner as the registered agent.

The following month, SpiritBank, where Mr. Kelly was chief executive, approved a mortgage in the amount of $420,000 in the name of Capital House L.L.C., another spelling of the entity.

Ms. Lindsey, the former lobbyist, said she had been focused on her impending move to Dallas, and had deferred the sale and other arrangements to the company’s relocation agent. She said she had known nothing about the involvement of the shell company and did not recall the final sale price. “The bottom line is — it is unusual to take a $100,000 loss on the house” after being on the market for just a few weeks, she said.

Asked about the drop in price, AT&T said in a statement that two independent firms appraised the house and that its average value came to $390,000. The valuation and sale were handled by the relocation business, the company added.

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The State Capitol in Oklahoma City. Lobbyists and others in state politics recalled Mr. Pruitt as a tough competitor who always had his eye on a higher office.

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Brett Deering for The New York Times

Mr. Jiles, in an email exchange, said he became involved because Mr. Wagner presented the house as “a good deal” and a convenient place to stay. He said he had no other business interactions with Mr. Pruitt.

“A cash transaction was most likely used because sellers will often sell for less if it’s a cash deal rather than a finance deal,” Mr. Jiles said. “And I was likely the one most able to do a cash deal at the time.”

In a statement, SpiritBank’s chief executive and president, Rick Harper, said the bank was legally prohibited from commenting on specific loans, but added, “SpiritBank is confident these loans were made in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

The deal came at a time when SBC was a major employer in the state and a lobbying force in Oklahoma City.

As president of SBC Oklahoma and a registered lobbyist, Ms. Lindsey said she entertained lawmakers at her home. Moreover, SBC was known to court lawmakers with gifts, including tickets for Mr. Pruitt and others to watch Oklahoma State University play in the men’s basketball Final Four in 2004, The Oklahoman reported at the time.

“It gives us a chance to try to build a relationship with a lawmaker or an official,” a spokesman, Andy Morgan, told the newspaper. “Events like that offer a much more relaxed atmosphere.” He added: “We’re one of the state’s largest employers. It’s important that lawmakers are informed about issues affecting our company.”

The prospect of another investigation into a longstanding bribery case had especially rattled SBC. In the early 1990s, an SBC lobbyist had been found guilty in federal court of paying a bribe to a public utilities commissioner to sway a vote that allowed the company to keep federal tax savings rather than disburse them to its ratepayers. But the vote itself was never overturned, and in 2003, another commissioner proposed reopening the investigation, claiming SBC still owed billions of dollars in refunds. The commissioner dropped his plans for an investigation after state legislators, and the attorney general at the time, Drew Edmondson, pushed back against the effort.

Later, when Mr. Pruitt became attorney general, he helped quash another attempt to revisit the SBC bribery case. In a March 2011 letter, Mr. Pruitt’s office warned that any commissioner who reopened the investigation could face prosecution for the misuse of public funds.

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Mr. Pruitt with Albert Kelly, a top aide at the E.P.A. Mr. Kelly, previously chief executive of SpiritBank, was recently barred from working in the finance industry.

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M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico

A Run of Good Fortune

Around the same time Mr. Pruitt invested in the house in Oklahoma City, he had finished a big business deal that involved Mr. Kelly, Mr. Wagner and a campaign donor who ran a large staffing company.

A baseball player in college, Mr. Pruitt bought an approximately 25 percent stake in the Oklahoma City RedHawks and became the team’s managing partner, making him a highly visible spokesman for the local team. Mr. Wagner also purchased a small stake, and Mr. Kelly’s bank provided financing for the deal, as first reported by The Intercept, which also disclosed the bank’s loans for one of Mr. Pruitt’s suburban Tulsa homes.

Mr. Pruitt’s main partner was Robert Funk, the business magnate who ran Express Services, the staffing firm. The sale price was not disclosed, but news reports suggested they paid over $11.5 million, with Mr. Funk carrying the biggest load.

Two months after the deal closed in November 2003, Mr. Funk attended a news conference where Mr. Pruitt announced legislation that would make it harder for Oklahoma workers to claim certain kinds of injury compensation, something that would benefit companies like Mr. Funk’s.

The relationship continued, with Mr. Funk serving as campaign chairman during Mr. Pruitt’s unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2006. Mr. Pruitt announced his candidacy outside the ballpark and cited his efforts on workers’ compensation among his achievements.

After losing the election, Mr. Pruitt took a break from public office, but continued his business relationship with Mr. Funk, proposing a $200 million town center on a parking lot next to the ballpark. The City Council balked at the project, but Mr. Pruitt’s ambitions and prominence grew.

Back at home in Tulsa, Mr. Pruitt worked with Mr. Wagner’s firm, which had offices in SpiritBank’s building. As a corporate lawyer, Mr. Wagner frequently represented the bank, but also represented a used car dealership run by Mr. Pruitt’s family.

In 2004, Mr. Pruitt upgraded from a modest one-story home where his family had lived for over a decade to a $605,000 lakeside house a mile away. SpiritBank financed the home. The E.P.A. spokeswoman said Mr. Pruitt was able to afford the house “due to his sale of personal assets.”

Photo

Mr. Pruitt with Robert Funk in 2003. They invested together in the minor league baseball team the Oklahoma City RedHawks.

Credit
The Oklahoman

In September 2010, as Mr. Pruitt was on his way to successfully winning his race for attorney general, he and Mr. Funk announced that they had sold the RedHawks. They did not disclose the price, but Forbes estimated its value a few years later at $21 million. SpiritBank, where Mr. Kelly was still chief executive, “played a key role in facilitating” the deal by providing acquisition financing, a news release said.

As a candidate for attorney general, Mr. Pruitt was not required to disclose the extent of his assets and how much money he made, but there were hints that his finances had improved since his early days as a state senator. Early into his term, he and his wife paid $1.18 million for a 5,518-square-foot Cotswold-style stone residence, featured in a book on Tulsa homes. It has five fireplaces, a library and a guest apartment.

The Attorney General Years

During his six years as attorney general, Mr. Pruitt blazed a path of spending that holds new meaning now that his E.P.A. expenditures are the subject of investigations and growing political outrage.

Mr. Pruitt moved the attorney general’s outpost in Tulsa to a prime suite in the Bank of America tower, an almost $12,000-a-month space that quadrupled the annual rent. He required his staff to regularly drive him between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, according to several people familiar with his time as attorney general.

And he channeled state contracts to Mr. Wagner’s law firm, which was already doing business with the state.

From 2011 to 2017, state records show, the attorney general’s office awarded more than $600,000 in contracts to Mr. Wagner’s Tulsa-based law firm, Latham, Wagner Steele & Lehman — greatly increasing work with the firm, which had gotten a total of about $100,000 over the four years before that. These contracts are not competitively bid. The additional expenditures reflected an approach, contentious even among some fellow Republicans, to hire private lawyers for state business, often for cases challenging federal regulations.

“He said that these people had special expertise that his agency didn’t have,” said Paul Wesselhoft, a Republican former state representative. “He has an army of lawyers with expertise. He didn’t have to spend that extra tax money to hire another law firm. It didn’t seem frugal.”

Mr. Pruitt used the Bank of America building as a base for his growing political ambitions. Oklahoma Strong Leadership, a political action committee he formed in 2015 to help finance fellow Republicans’ campaigns, operated out of the building. The group shared a suite with another PAC tied to Mr. Pruitt, Liberty 2.0, as well as his campaign office.

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Huawei, Failing to Crack U.S. Market, Signals a Change in Tactics


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As the Chinese telecom giant Huawei roars ahead in the rest of the world, roadblocks in Washington have thwarted its attempts to build a presence in the United States.

Credit
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

SHANGHAI — For Huawei’s longstanding efforts to crack the United States market, it’s the end of an era.

Last week, the Chinese telecom giant laid off five American employees, including its top liaison to the United States government, William Plummer, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Plummer, who was with the company for almost eight years, became the face of Huawei’s Sisyphean efforts to win over Washington.

Bedeviled by concerns about its close relationship to the Chinese government, Huawei has spent much of the last decade lobbying to be allowed to sell its communications equipment to American telecom carriers. Mr. Plummer emerged as a highly visible representative during a series of congressional hearings in 2012, which resulted in recommendations that American firms not buy the Chinese company’s products.

On his LinkedIn account, Mr. Plummer wrote that he was “in transition.”

A Huawei spokesman said in a statement that any layoffs reflected an effort to better align its resources to support the company’s “business strategy and objectives.”

“Any changes to staffing size or structure are simply a reflection of standard business organization,” he added.

It is not clear whether there will be a replacement for Mr. Plummer, but his removal seems to indicate a change in tactics for Huawei in the United States. The company’s policy operations there are led by a relatively recent arrival, Zhang Ruijun, who took over the position nine months ago after previous postings for Huawei in Mexico and Russia.

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In Letter to E.P.A., Top Ethics Officer Questions Pruitt’s Actions


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Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, at his confirmation hearing last year. The acting director of the Office of Government Ethics outlined three areas of concern in the letter.

Credit
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The federal government’s top ethics official has taken the unusual step of sending a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency questioning a series of actions by Administrator Scott Pruitt and asking the agency to take “appropriate actions to address any violations.”

The letter, sent to Kevin Minoli, the E.P.A. official designated as the agency’s top ethics official, addresses questions about Mr. Pruitt’s rental for $50 a night of a condominium linked to an energy lobbyist, as well as his government-funded flights to his home state of Oklahoma. The letter also cites reporting last week in The New York Times that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions found themselves transferred or demoted.

“The success of our government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve,” said David J. Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics said, in the letter sent Monday morning to the E.P.A. “The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed.”

The letter walks through the three areas of concern. The first is related to the Capitol Hill condo Mr. Pruitt rented early last year from the wife of an energy lobbyist whose firm had business matters before the E.P.A.

Mr. Apol noted that Mr. Pruitt did not apparently seek advice about the appropriateness of the deal until after he had moved out. Then, the agency ethics officer who was asked to evaluate the matter, which took place this month following news reports about the lease, was given “limited information” about the deal, and wasn’t informed, for example, that Mr. Pruitt’s daughter also used the condo.

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Australians Are the World’s Biggest Gambling Losers, and Some Seek Action


“Often, Australians don’t realize it,” she said of the ubiquity of the machines. “It’s like being a fish in water.”

Their operators are often prominent community entities: Woolworths, one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, is the biggest operator of pokies in the country, controlling about 12,000 machines through its majority stake in the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, a large company that encompasses bars, restaurants and wagering.

Though the Woolworths Group doesn’t distinguish liquor sales from gambling revenues in its annual report, estimates suggest that it pulls more than 1 billion Australian dollars, or $770 million, in revenue from the machines each year.

Other community mainstays also operate machines. In Victoria, the heartland of Australian Rules Football, 90 percent of Australian Football League teams operate their own pokies, generating more than 93 million Australian dollars in revenue last year.

Pokies are regulated on a state-by-state basis, instead of by the federal government. Western Australia is the only state or territory that bans the operation of pokies outside casinos.

State budgets are increasingly made up of revenues from the machines, and legalized gambling, including from pokies, accounted for 7.7 percent of total tax revenues for Australian states and territories in 2016. In some parts of Australia, gamers can deposit 7,500 Australian dollars into a machine in one transaction, and can lose more than a thousand dollars per hour.

A study conducted by Dr. Rintoul comparing two regions outside Melbourne found that the less wealthy one had twice as many pokie machines, and more than three times the per capita losses.

“The people who can least afford to be losing large sums of money are losing the most,” she said.

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A “gamblers help line” sign in the men’s restroom at a gaming venue. In a country that has confronted other powerful industries — mandating graphic warnings on cigarette packages and cracking down on guns, for example — some wonder why gambling has escaped tougher regulation.

Credit
Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times

Dr. Rintoul described the casino-like methods used by venues to maximize revenue, including rewarding patrons with free food and drinks, and hiring part-time models as wait staff.

A visit to one gaming floor at a venue in Sunshine, the region Dr. Rintoul’s study focused on, revealed a busy gaming floor one recent Wednesday night. Gamblers placed “RESERVED” signs under their machines of choice, which Dr. Rintoul said reflected how frequent gamblers come to relate to the machines: picking favorites, and believing that a particular one can get “hot” or due for a win.

A few hours later, in Balaclava, a suburb on the opposite side of Melbourne, patrons filled the gaming room at an Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group venue open until 6 a.m. A large Woolworths supermarket across the road keeps foot traffic in the area high.

“We regularly had people tell us that they often ended up in a gambling venue even when they weren’t intending to gamble when they left the house,” Dr. Rintoul said.

In February, Andrew Wilkie, an independent Australian politician, published leaked documents from two whistle-blowers at Australian Leisure and Hospitality revealing that the company had been secretly collecting data on frequent gamblers, including their favorite sporting teams, their relationship statuses and when they had the most money to spend.

Gordon Cairns, the chairman of Woolworths, said that the company was “very concerned” about the revelations and that the matter was being reviewed by external auditors.

In a country that has confronted other powerful industries by mandating graphic warnings on cigarette packages and cracking down on guns, some wonder why gambling has escaped tougher regulation. Critics say politicians are increasingly afraid to confront the growing influence of the gambling lobby.

The Rev. Tim Costello, a spokesman for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, compares pro-gambling bodies to the National Rifle Association in the United States in their ability to sway politicians.

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In Australia, the businesses that house pokie machines usually resemble typical English pubs, replete with bars and dining areas, but with the addition of a dedicated gaming room.

Credit
Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York Times

Australians, he said, “say Americans have a blind spot on guns.”

“Here, we have a blind spot on pokies,” he added.

Pro-gambling groups frequently refer to Mr. Costello and other gambling opponents as “prohibitionists,” and are quick to point to support services they have developed for frequent gamers. They also argue that tighter regulation of pokies would lead to huge job losses at the venues that operate them.

The groups have increasingly flexed their muscles in state elections. Anti-gambling candidates who ran in Tasmania and South Australia this year faced a barrage of negative advertising from pro-gambling bodies.

In the run-up to the South Australian election, the Australian Hotels Association — which counts Australian Leisure and Hospitality as a member — donated to several opponents of Nick Xenophon, an independent whose new party, S.A.-BEST, vowed to cut in half the number of pokies per venue, and institute smaller betting limits. After positive early campaign polling, Mr. Xenophon and his party ultimately failed to win a single lower-house seat. It was the first election loss of Mr. Xenophon’s 20-year career.

“How much influence they wield, it’s unhealthy,” said Frank Pangello, Mr. Xenophon’s media adviser in the recent election.

“They bought an election in Tasmania, they bought one in South Australia,” Mr. Pangello added. “They’re like the N.R.A. in America: You take them on, they’ll crush you.”

The Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group declined to comment for this article or discuss whether it spent money on the Tasmanian and South Australian state elections. The hotels group did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Costello said that with governments so dependent on gambling revenues, it may be difficult to pass tighter regulation of pokies.

“The states are Dracula in charge of the blood bank,” he said.

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Pruitt Had a $50-a-Day Condo Linked to Lobbyists. Their Client’s Project Got Approved.


The March 2017 action by the E.P.A. on the pipeline project — in the form of a letter telling the State Department that the E.P.A. had no serious environmental objections — meant that the project, an expansion of the Alberta Clipper line, had cleared a significant hurdle. The expansion, a project of Enbridge Inc., a Calgary-based energy company, would allow hundreds of thousands more barrels of oil a day to flow through this pipeline to the United States from Canadian tar sands.

The sign-off by the E.P.A. came even though the agency, at the end of the Obama administration, had moved to fine Enbridge $61 million in connection with a 2010 pipeline episode that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and other waterways. The fine was the second-largest in the history of the Clean Water Act, behind the penalty imposed after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A spokesman for Williams & Jennings said that the lobbying firm did not intervene with the E.P.A. or Mr. Pruitt on the Enbridge pipeline expansion either before or after Mr. Pruitt was living in the condo owned in part by Vicki Hart, the wife of J. Steven Hart, the chairman of the firm.

The lobbying firm also said it had not worked on similar regulatory issues for Enbridge in the past year, even though it was registered at the time as lobbying for the company on “issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines,” its disclosure report from early 2017 says.

Cynthia Giles, who served at the E.P.A. as an enforcement official in the agency’s mid-Atlantic region in the 1990s before becoming an assistant administrator at the agency in the Obama administration, said Mr. Pruitt’s housing arrangements raised questions about the fairness of the E.P.A.’s decision-making process.

“The people at the E.P.A. are charged with following the science and facts as it applies to individual decisions,” she said. Appearing to accept favors from influential figures “is just not good judgment.”

Ms. Bowman said the criticism was unjustified, saying that Mr. Pruitt paid what one E.P.A. official called a “market value” rent. However, an examination of Capitol Hill rentals suggests that rates typically are considerably higher and generally do not come with a provision, as Mr. Pruitt’s did, that the renter can pay for only the nights stayed at the condo.

The E.P.A.’s review of the Alberta Clipper project was one of at least a half dozen regulatory matters before the E.P.A. related to clients who were represented by Williams & Jensen at the time that Mr. Pruitt was living part-time in the Capitol Hill condo.

Williams & Jensen, for example, was lobbying the E.P.A. early last year, according to its disclosure reports, on behalf of both Oklahoma Gas and Electric, a major coal-burning utility, and Concho Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas drilling company.

Photo

Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. head, was renting a condominium linked to Enbridge’s lobbying firm.

Credit
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

The work for Oklahoma Gas involved the effort to repeal or revise the landmark Obama-era rule that pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions. An E.P.A. calendar in March 2017 shows that Mr. Pruitt and his chief of staff were scheduled to meet with company executives at the request of a Williams & Jensen lobbyist.

Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas, said the company had received no favors from Mr. Pruitt. “By no means has O.G.E. benefited from any living arrangements for Administrator Pruitt,” he said in a statement. “In fact, Administrator Pruitt did not attend the mentioned meeting.”

Concho, a 2017 lobbying disclosure report shows, hired Williams & Jensen to help it handle matters including “EPA regulatory proposals re: oil and gas operations.” The company’s regulatory filings indicate its concerns included the regulation of methane emissions (a major factor in climate change) from drilling and production operations, as well as rules intended to protect drinking water supplies. Mr. Pruitt has considered revisions in both regulatory areas.

In the Enbridge case, the E.P.A. was asked to evaluate the potential environmental effect of the pipeline expansion application, as well as the quality of a preliminary review of the project that the State Department had already conducted. When the pipeline opened in 2010, it was permitted to carry only as much as 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The expansion would allow it to move an additional 390,000 barrels through a key three-mile section near the Canadian border.

Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the project deserved to be approved, noting the “vital service that this existing pipeline provides in delivering secure and reliable supplies of North American crude oil to the United States.”

The oil it carries comes from the so-called Canadian tar sands, like the oil for the proposed extension of the Keystone XL pipeline. Extraction from tar sands has drawn opposition from environmentalists, given that the process requires more energy than traditional drilling.

Pipelines, like this one, that cross an international border into the United States require a presidential permit, which is issued only after the State Department has conducted a detailed environmental review and has taken input from other federal agencies, including the E.P.A.

In this case, the pipeline expansion was further complicated by the fact that a related Enbridge pipeline involved in oil imports from Canada spilled nearly 1 million gallons of oil in Marshall, Mich., in July 2010 after tape intended to prevent corrosion on the pipeline failed. Investigators later found that employees allowed the oil to continue to flow after wrongly assuming that the alarms sounding were caused by a harmless vapor bubble.

Enbridge has argued it has learned from that accident and taken corrective measures to prevent it from happening again. The settlement with the E.P.A. also requires the company to spend at least $110 million to install advanced leak detection and monitoring measures to prevent spills.

In March 2017, while Mr. Pruitt’s lease at the Washington condo was in effect, the E.P.A. issued a letter giving the pipeline project the second-best rating it offers out of 10 possible scores. The agency concluded that while the project raised “environmental concerns,” the review had adequately examined the alternatives and determined that “no further analysis or data collection is necessary.”

If the E.P.A. had wanted to more aggressively challenge the project, the agency could have rated it as “environmental objections” or “environmentally unsatisfactory.”

The conclusion stands in contrast to a similar evaluation by the agency in 2013 of the Keystone XL pipeline project. That evaluation focused more on the effect that the flow of tar-sands oil could have on the goal of limiting global climate change and gave the project an “environmental objections” rating.

With the sign-off by the E.P.A. and the State Department, Enbridge received the expansion permit it needed in October, five years after it first applied for permission. Additional pumping stations have already been built, meaning the pipeline expansion project is already completed, the company said.

Mr. Pruitt is separately the focus of an investigation by the E.P.A. inspector general, Arthur A. Elkins Jr., based on Mr. Pruitt’s travel in early 2017 back to his home state of Oklahoma on government-funded flights, as well as his use of first-class tickets for flights and, at times, costly chartered planes.

Discussions have already started on Capitol Hill about asking the E.P.A. inspector general to expand his inquiry to include the condo deal. Late Monday, three House Democrats who serve on the committee with oversight of the E.P.A. sent a letter to Mr. Pruitt asking a series of questions about the condo lease, which was first reported by ABC News.

“As administrator you have taken a number of actions to benefit industries regulated by E.P.A.,” the letter said. “And this news raises the possibility that you may have personally benefited from your relationship with industry.”

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Pruitt Had a $50-a-Day Condo Linked to Lobbyists. Their Client’s Project Got Approved.


The March 2017 action by the E.P.A. on the pipeline project — in the form of a letter telling the State Department that the E.P.A. had no serious environmental objections — meant that the project, an expansion of the Alberta Clipper line, had cleared a significant hurdle. The expansion, a project of Enbridge Inc., a Calgary-based energy company, would allow hundreds of thousands more barrels of oil a day to flow through this pipeline to the United States from Canadian tar sands.

The sign-off by the E.P.A. came even though the agency, at the end of the Obama administration, had moved to fine Enbridge $61 million in connection with a 2010 pipeline episode that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and other waterways. The fine was the second-largest in the history of the Clean Water Act, behind the penalty imposed after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A spokesman for Williams & Jennings said that the lobbying firm did not intervene with the E.P.A. or Mr. Pruitt on the Enbridge pipeline expansion either before or after Mr. Pruitt was living in the condo owned in part by Vicki Hart, the wife of J. Steven Hart, the chairman of the firm.

The lobbying firm also said it had not worked on similar regulatory issues for Enbridge in the past year, even though it was registered at the time as lobbying for the company on “issues affecting pipelines and construction of new pipelines,” its disclosure report from early 2017 says.

Cynthia Giles, who served at the E.P.A. as an enforcement official in the agency’s mid-Atlantic region in the 1990s before becoming an assistant administrator at the agency in the Obama administration, said Mr. Pruitt’s housing arrangements raised questions about the fairness of the E.P.A.’s decision-making process.

“The people at the E.P.A. are charged with following the science and facts as it applies to individual decisions,” she said. Appearing to accept favors from influential figures “is just not good judgment.”

Ms. Bowman said the criticism was unjustified, saying that Mr. Pruitt paid what one E.P.A. official called a “market value” rent. However, an examination of Capitol Hill rentals suggests that rates typically are considerably higher and generally do not come with a provision, as Mr. Pruitt’s did, that the renter can pay for only the nights stayed at the condo.

The E.P.A.’s review of the Alberta Clipper project was one of at least a half dozen regulatory matters before the E.P.A. related to clients who were represented by Williams & Jensen at the time that Mr. Pruitt was living part-time in the Capitol Hill condo.

Williams & Jensen, for example, was lobbying the E.P.A. early last year, according to its disclosure reports, on behalf of both Oklahoma Gas and Electric, a major coal-burning utility, and Concho Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas drilling company.

Photo

Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. head, was renting a condominium linked to Enbridge’s lobbying firm.

Credit
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

The work for Oklahoma Gas involved the effort to repeal or revise the landmark Obama-era rule that pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions. An E.P.A. calendar in March 2017 shows that Mr. Pruitt and his chief of staff were scheduled to meet with company executives at the request of a Williams & Jensen lobbyist.

Brian Alford, a spokesman for Oklahoma Gas, said the company had received no favors from Mr. Pruitt. “By no means has O.G.E. benefited from any living arrangements for Administrator Pruitt,” he said in a statement. “In fact, Administrator Pruitt did not attend the mentioned meeting.”

Concho, a 2017 lobbying disclosure report shows, hired Williams & Jensen to help it handle matters including “EPA regulatory proposals re: oil and gas operations.” The company’s regulatory filings indicate its concerns included the regulation of methane emissions (a major factor in climate change) from drilling and production operations, as well as rules intended to protect drinking water supplies. Mr. Pruitt has considered revisions in both regulatory areas.

In the Enbridge case, the E.P.A. was asked to evaluate the potential environmental effect of the pipeline expansion application, as well as the quality of a preliminary review of the project that the State Department had already conducted. When the pipeline opened in 2010, it was permitted to carry only as much as 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The expansion would allow it to move an additional 390,000 barrels through a key three-mile section near the Canadian border.

Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Enbridge, said the project deserved to be approved, noting the “vital service that this existing pipeline provides in delivering secure and reliable supplies of North American crude oil to the United States.”

The oil it carries comes from the so-called Canadian tar sands, like the oil for the proposed extension of the Keystone XL pipeline. Extraction from tar sands has drawn opposition from environmentalists, given that the process requires more energy than traditional drilling.

Pipelines, like this one, that cross an international border into the United States require a presidential permit, which is issued only after the State Department has conducted a detailed environmental review and has taken input from other federal agencies, including the E.P.A.

In this case, the pipeline expansion was further complicated by the fact that a related Enbridge pipeline involved in oil imports from Canada spilled nearly 1 million gallons of oil in Marshall, Mich., in July 2010 after tape intended to prevent corrosion on the pipeline failed. Investigators later found that employees allowed the oil to continue to flow after wrongly assuming that the alarms sounding were caused by a harmless vapor bubble.

Enbridge has argued it has learned from that accident and taken corrective measures to prevent it from happening again. The settlement with the E.P.A. also requires the company to spend at least $110 million to install advanced leak detection and monitoring measures to prevent spills.

In March 2017, while Mr. Pruitt’s lease at the Washington condo was in effect, the E.P.A. issued a letter giving the pipeline project the second-best rating it offers out of 10 possible scores. The agency concluded that while the project raised “environmental concerns,” the review had adequately examined the alternatives and determined that “no further analysis or data collection is necessary.”

If the E.P.A. had wanted to more aggressively challenge the project, the agency could have rated it as “environmental objections” or “environmentally unsatisfactory.”

The conclusion stands in contrast to a similar evaluation by the agency in 2013 of the Keystone XL pipeline project. That evaluation focused more on the effect that the flow of tar-sands oil could have on the goal of limiting global climate change and gave the project an “environmental objections” rating.

With the sign-off by the E.P.A. and the State Department, Enbridge received the expansion permit it needed in October, five years after it first applied for permission. Additional pumping stations have already been built, meaning the pipeline expansion project is already completed, the company said.

Mr. Pruitt is separately the focus of an investigation by the E.P.A. inspector general, Arthur A. Elkins Jr., based on Mr. Pruitt’s travel in early 2017 back to his home state of Oklahoma on government-funded flights, as well as his use of first-class tickets for flights and, at times, costly chartered planes.

Discussions have already started on Capitol Hill about asking the E.P.A. inspector general to expand his inquiry to include the condo deal. Late Monday, three House Democrats who serve on the committee with oversight of the E.P.A. sent a letter to Mr. Pruitt asking a series of questions about the condo lease, which was first reported by ABC News.

“As administrator you have taken a number of actions to benefit industries regulated by E.P.A.,” the letter said. “And this news raises the possibility that you may have personally benefited from your relationship with industry.”

Continue reading the main story