ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
39°
Sunny
H 50° L 32°
  • cloudy-day
    39°
    Current Conditions
    Sunny. H 50° L 32°
  • clear-day
    62°
    Afternoon
    Sunny. H 50° L 32°
  • clear-night
    50°
    Evening
    Clear. H 66° L 35°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Krmg news on demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Krmg traffic on demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Krmg weather on demand

00:00 | 00:00

State & Regional
EPA chief defends spending on travel and soundproof booth
Close

EPA chief defends spending on travel and soundproof booth

EPA chief defends spending on travel and soundproof booth
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File
FILE - In this June 2, 2017 file photo, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Pruitt defended his frequent taxpayer-funded travel and his purchase of a custom sound-proof communications booth for his office, saying both were justified. Pruitt made his first appearance before a House oversight subcommittee responsible for environmental issues since his confirmation to lead EPA in February. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

EPA chief defends spending on travel and soundproof booth

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday defended his frequent taxpayer-funded travel and his purchase of a custom soundproof communications booth for his office, saying both were justified.

Pruitt made his first appearance before a House oversight subcommittee responsible for environmental issues since his confirmation to lead EPA in February. While his fellow Republicans largely used their time to praise Pruitt's leadership, Democrats pressed Pruitt on his proposed rollbacks of environmental regulations, his past statements denying carbon emissions are primarily to blame for climate change and his spending while in office.

The former Oklahoma attorney general is under scrutiny after expense reports showed he often leaves Washington on Thursdays and Fridays for appearances in westward states before spending the weekend at his home in Tulsa and then returning to EPA headquarters on Mondays. The EPA's inspector general is currently investigating whether Pruitt's trips violate EPA's travel policies and procedures.

"Every trip I've taken to Oklahoma with respect to taxpayer expenses has been business related," Pruitt said, before giving examples of meetings and environmental issues in his home state that he said required his personal attention. "When I've traveled back to the state for personal reasons, I've paid for it. And that will bear out in the process."

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, asked about the nearly $25,000 he spent on a custom soundproof booth for making private phone calls in his office — something none of his predecessors had.

Pruitt said the booth serves as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF, which typically are secure rooms used to house computers and equipment for communicating over classified government networks. Former EPA officials said that explanation doesn't make much sense.

There was already a SCIF at EPA headquarters in Washington where officials with the appropriate levels of security clearance can go to access classified information. EPA employees rarely deal with government secrets. The agency does occasionally receive, handle and store classified material because of its homeland security, emergency response and continuity missions.

Pruitt said he needed the booth to have a secure phone line with which he could communicate with the White House, located just a few blocks away.

"Cabinet level officials need to have access to secure communications," Pruitt said. "It's necessary for me to be able to do my job."

Committee Democrats also grilled Pruitt over what ranking member Frank Pallone of New Jersey called an "unprecedented assault on independent science" by purging academic experts from federal advisory boards and replacing them with industry representatives.

Pruitt in November appointed a new slate of members to 22 boards that provide input on issues such as drinking water standards and air pollution limits. For the chairmanship of EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors, he selected a former agency official who became an executive of a company that burns waste to generate electricity.

He also said he has barred from the boards current recipients of EPA grants or those in a position to benefit from them to avoid conflicts of interest. Twenty scientists on three committees have received $77 million in grants, which "causes a perception or appearance of a lack of independence in advising the agency on a host of issues," Pruitt told the subcommittee. Pruitt made no such prohibition for those who receive funding from industries regulated by EPA.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., asked for specific examples of an EPA grant recipient offering "conflicted advice." Pruitt said he could provide "many examples of scientists who received grants over a period of time that were substantial and it called into question that independence, and we addressed that through the policy that we implemented."

Tonko said Pruitt's EPA was ignoring scientific consensus through its downplaying of climate change and its approach to regulation and eroding staff morale by censoring experts.

"I believe EPA has all the signs of an agency captured by industry," he said.

___

Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan.

___

Follow AP environmental writer Michael Biesecker at http://Twitter.com/mbieseck

Read More
VIEW COMMENTS

There are no comments yet. Be the first to post your thoughts. or Register.

  • The acting head of the Oklahoma State Department of Health says a $30 million cash infusion from the Legislature will help pay vendors and fund layoffs. Acting Oklahoma Health Commissioner Preston Doerflinger made the comments Monday during more than two hours of testimony before a House panel looking into the agency's budget problems. Doerflinger announced last week that 198 employees at the department would be laid off to reduce costs.  He says some of the $30 million will be used to give laid-off employees a cash payment equal to 18 months of health insurance premiums. Doerflinger says more systemic changes are needed to permanently stabilize the agency after years of mismanagement.
  • The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents scheduled to meet Tuesday amid calls for board member Kirk Humphreys to resign. Humphreys compared gay people to pedophiles during an interview with an Oklahoma City television station that aired on Sunday. An OU alumni group called for his resignation. The student body president encouraged the campus to voice its opinion on Humphreys' 'ignorant' words.” OU's president said he disagreed with the views. Humphreys said in a statement Monday night that he regretted his comments and that he didn't mean to equate gay people with pedophiles. 
  • Trading barbs with President Donald Trump via Twitter on Tuesday, women Democrats demanded that Congress investigate past claims of sexual misconduct leveled against the President during the 2016 campaign, as several lawmakers took the extra step of asking for Mr. Trump’s resignation. “President Trump should resign. But, of course, he won’t hold himself accountable,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has emerged as the leader of efforts to pressure the President on the issue of past allegations. Mr. Trump lobbed a Twitter barb directly at the New York Democrat on Tuesday morning, labeling her a “lightweight” and “total flunky.” Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017 Gillibrand answered back, saying her voice would not be shut down by the President. You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office. https://t.co/UbQZqubXZv — Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) December 12, 2017 And she was joined by other Democrats as well, in calling for the stories about the President to get more of a public airing. . @realDonaldTrump is a misogynist, compulsive liar, and admitted sexual predator. Attacks on Kirsten are the latest example that no one is safe from this bully. He must resign. https://t.co/7lNI23K7ib — Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) December 12, 2017 Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, #shepersisted. https://t.co/mYJtBZfxiu — Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 12, 2017 A day after the White House turned aside questions about past claims made by women against the President, Mr. Trump directly addressed the matter, saying that it was all “FAKE NEWS,” calling the charges against him nothing more than ‘false accusations and fabricated stories.’ Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia – so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met. FAKE NEWS! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017 At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, a group of House Democratic women asked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the head of the House Oversight committee, to investigate the accusations against Mr. Trump. “At least 17 women have publicly accused the President of sexual misconduct,” the letter to Gowdy stated. “The President’s own remarks appear to back up the allegations,” the letter continued. “The President has boasted in public and in crude terms that he feels at liberty to perpetrate such conduct against women.” “The ‘Me-Too’ movement has arrived,” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL). “Victims must be heard, perpetrators must be held accountable.” 'To date, more than 17 women have publicly come forward to accuse Donald Trump of sexual misconduct,' lawmaker says. 'Simply said, Americans deserve the truth.' https://t.co/mIxkZRGYzP pic.twitter.com/QhBvmGSxE1 — CBS News (@CBSNews) December 12, 2017 At a news conference, Frankel said the letter – which originally had 58 signatures – had swiftly jumped to over 100 in all. “Americans deserve the truth,” Frankel told reporters. While the Democratic women were in the spotlight, some of their male colleagues also chimed in with calls for a more thorough review of the accusations against Mr. Trump. “If you called for Franken to step down, don’t you also have to say it is the right thing for the President to resign?” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on CNN.
  • After enduring weeks of speculation on what would happen if controversial Republican Roy Moore wins a seat in the U.S. Senate, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are waiting like everyone else to see the next act in this political play, as Senate GOP leaders have made clear they won’t give Moore a hero’s welcome if he does emerge victorious on Tuesday night in Alabama. As Senators arrived for their first vote of the week on Monday evening, Republicans ran a gauntlet of reporters asking a simple question – will Roy Moore soon be in the U.S. Senate? “I don’t know,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the senior Senator from the Yellowhammer State, who has made clear that he did not vote for Moore, but instead wrote in another Republican in the Alabama Senate race. Pressed again to say if Moore would win, Shelby re-emphasized his vote. “Not with my help,” he said. The polls in Alabama have been back and forth in recent weeks. The latest on Monday from Fox News, showed a 10 point lead for Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. Fox News Poll: Enthused Democrats give Jones lead over Moore in Alabama https://t.co/7RZmnq0zXN #FoxNews — Mihai Scorobete (@MihaiScorobete) December 11, 2017 “We’ll see,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who denounced Moore, and gave $100 to the Jones campaign. “At this point it’s what I call a turnout race,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), when asked who would win. “It depends who gets their vote out.” While Byrne believes the edge is with the GOP, political pollsters say his turnout argument is on point. “Tomorrow’s Alabama Senate special election will depend on which candidate has more people turn out to vote for him,” pollster Frank Luntz wrote Monday on Twitter. This group of conservative Alabama voters say all 9 of Roy Moore's accusers have been paid to lie against him. #ALSen https://t.co/OT1vV33KRT — Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) December 9, 2017 Outside the Senate chamber, many Republicans wanted to wait and see the vote totals before worrying about their next move. “Let’s see what happens,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), as he was pursued by a group of reporters. “That’s a decision that I leave to the Leader,” Johnson said when asked how Moore should be dealt with by his fellow Republicans – if he wins. “I’m not going to make a call on his qualifications,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) of Moore. “That will be a decision that will be made after the outcome of the election.” Others were quiet on the subject of Roy Moore for an obvious reason. “The answer to your question is, I’m doing good,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), before I had even asked the Senator a question. “I can’t talk to you about anything because I’m the Ethics Chairman,” Isakson added, as the Georgia Republican would be in charge of any ethics review of Moore, which the Senate Majority Leader has made clear he would ask for that if Moore is elected. Isakson – and his GOP colleagues – will find out Tuesday night what’s next for them, and what’s next for Roy Moore.