Skip to main content

Here Are Some of the Most Significant Controversies Surrounding Scott Pruitt

A brief rundown of the scandals that dogged the EPA administrator in the months leading up to his resignation.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Appropriations Committee on April 26th, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Appropriations Committee on April 26th, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

President Donald Trump on Thursday accepted the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. In recent months, Pruitt had been dogged by numerous scandals. Pacific Standard rounded up some of the most significant controversies surrounding him.


Editor's Note: A version of this story originally appeared online on June 13th, 2018, with the headline "Dispatches: Scott Pruitt and His Many Scandals."

For months, scandals have swirled around Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is currently facing at least a dozen federal investigations. Thanks in part to a trove of emails released in May as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, the ongoing revelations of Pruitt's various controversies have taken on the feel of an ethics violation advent calendar, with each day bringing increasingly strange developments.

Here's a breakdown of some of the more notable problems surrounding Pruitt:

Questionable Use of Taxpayer Dollars

As early as last October, the EPA's use of taxpayer money was raising red flags. In March, Politico reported that Pruitt had spent more than $105,000 on first-class flights along with $58,000 on private and military plane charters. Pruitt's staff contended that these expenditures were necessary for the administrator's safety—a rational that was openly ridiculed at a Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing in May. And it's become increasingly clear that Pruitt's questionable spending is not limited to travel expenses: He's reportedly spent $43,000 on a soundproof privacy booth, $1,560 on 12 silver fountain pens, and at least $9,600 on office décor and desks.

Misuse of EPA Employees' Time

One of Pruitt's top aides, Millan Hupp, who has since resigned, testified to the House Oversight Committee that she frequently spent her time doing personal work for Pruitt, including helping Pruitt find an apartment and seeking a "Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top" used mattress on Pruitt's behalf. That aide's sister, Sydney Hupp—also an EPA aide, who left the agency last year—made inquiries for Pruitt regarding a possible job for his wife as Chick-fil-A franchisee.

Getting Favors From Lobbyists—and Benefiting From Coziness With the Fossil Fuel Industry

One of the earlier Pruitt scandals concerned his steeply discounted rental of a Capitol Hill condo from a lobbyist whose husband, J. Steven Hart, is himself a lobbyist with ties to the fossil fuel industry. Another lobbyist, Richard Smotkin, helped Pruitt plan a trip to Morocco last December, during which he met with the chairman of Morocco's state-owned phosphate mining company. More recently, it came to light that Pruitt attended a college basketball game with coal billionaire Joseph W. Craft III, who EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox called a longtime friend of Pruitt's, the New York Times reported. None of this is surprising: Pacific Standard noted in January that Pruitt has "a well-documented history as a mouthpiece for oil and gas companies."

As zany as it is that Chick-fil-A and used mattresses are in the mix, these energy industry connections are in many ways the most concerning of Pruitt's scandals, because they illuminate Pruitt's agenda—and the agenda of the EPA under his leadership—of putting industry interests ahead of both science and environmental justice. We'll continue to keep an eye on both Pruitt's ethics violations and his efforts to roll back environmental regulations and stifle the use of scientific research to formulate policy.

This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of