Pruitt Going Before Senate Panel

Pruitt Going Before Senate Panel

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is going before a Senate panel as he faces a growing series of federal ethics investigations.

Pruitt's appearance Wednesday before the Senate appropriations environmental subcommittee will again test his adeptness in weathering scandals and hanging on to the support of President Donald Trump.

The occasion would normally be a routine budget hearing for an agency head. But senators on the panel are expected to press Pruitt on his lavish spending, first-class travel and security, among other issues.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the subcommittee chairwoman, has told reporters that she was concerned about the allegations surrounding Pruitt, but that it was up to the Trump administration to decide his future.

Pruitt in April showed his ability to bat away those questions from Democrats when he appeared before two House panels. He responded to lawmakers' challenges by shifting blame for questioned spending onto subordinates and pledging broadly to make changes.

There has been no slow-down in damaging headlines for Pruitt since then, including revelations from the EPA's inspector general this week that Pruitt requested and received 24-hour security beginning his first day in office. That challenges Pruitt's account that the round-the-clock security was a result of threats against him after taking office.

Two weeks ago, Pruitt announced the abrupt retirement of the head of his EPA security staff, whom Pruitt had blamed for much of his high security spending,

Despite the mounting investigations, Trump has said he supports Pruitt. Asked Friday if he still had confidence in the EPA chief, Trump told reporters, "I do."

At one of the House hearings last month, Pruitt spoke broadly of taking responsibility for changes at his agency, and said he had "made changes" in his practice of first- and business-class travel. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox did not respond to a question Tuesday on whether Pruitt was now flying coach.

On the policy side, Pruitt has demonstrated his commitment to the Trump administration's cause of cutting regulation, especially rules that businesses call burdensome.

Last week, Pruitt announced changes in enforcement of the landmark Clean Air Act that critics said would give industries more say. On Monday, he announced a new "Office of Continuous Improvement" that he said would oversee speedy handling on permit requests, environmental violations and other matters.

The House oversight committee, the EPA's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office all are investigating various allegations against Pruitt or his administration at EPA. The latest was announced Tuesday, when Democratic lawmakers released a letter from the agency's inspector general initiating a probe into Pruitt's use of multiple email accounts, and the agency's compliance with requests for records under the federal Freedom of Information Act.