President Trump’s mission to gut the Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead at full speed, with one curious exception.
The personal security staff of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is three times larger than that of his predecessors. Either Pruitt is three times more unpopular than they were, or he just enjoys the extra company.
According to the Washington Post, Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail now numbers about 18 people. Beyonce, eat your heart out.
Even as Trump pushes to whack EPA’s budget by 31 percent, its Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance is quietly seeking to waive the hiring freeze and add more bodyguards for Pruitt.
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His security squad has expanded so fast that the EPA has been using investigators who normally work on prosecuting environmental crimes.
The agents are being pulled from active cases in Boston, Denver and other cities to guard Pruitt in two-week rotations.
And he’s a busy little beaver, too. An unabashed cheerleader for fossil-fuel polluters, Pruitt has been aggressively working to dismantle clean-air and clean-water rules established under the Obama administration.
Because of his pro-industry agenda – and unwavering scorn for climate-change science – Pruitt is receiving more nasty threats than recent past EPA administrators.
“A lot of correspondence we have reflects that people are unhappy with his perceived un-enforcement of environmental laws,” an assistant inspector general told the Post.
He added that the previous EPA boss, Gina McCarthy, received threats for perceived over-enforcement of laws.
Most of the agents being diverted to guard Pruitt have no background in personal-security techniques. They’re trained to investigate chemical spills, foul water and toxic dumps.
Now they’re being asked to play Secret Service. It’s unknown how many of them accompany Pruitt on his frequent travels from Washington to his home state of Oklahoma.
It was there that he served as the EPA-suing attorney general, and where he plans to soon run for office again.
He'll get plenty of support from the Koch brothers, Devon Energy, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and other old friends.
Documents obtained by Environmental Integrity Project under the Freedom of Information Act showed that Pruitt made 10 trips back to Oklahoma from March through May. He spent 43 of those 92 days either in the state, or traveling to and from.
U.S. taxpayers got the bill for most of his expenses. Official business included a tour of the Brainerd Chemical Company in Tulsa, Okla.
It’s a safe bet that Pruitt didn’t spend his visit inspecting for leaks.
Another time, he flew to Oklahoma to receive an award from the National Stripper Well Association, which is not an organization of health-conscious pole dancers. A stripper well is a low-volume oil or gas operation that is reaching the end of its productivity.
The industry loves Pruitt for his war on the Clean Water Rule, which in 2015 laid out the scope of federal jurisdiction over streams, wetlands and other bodies of water. Most energy and agricultural companies hate the rule.
It’s only fair to point out that Pruitt’s Oklahoma travels also took him to Osage County to view a contaminated creek.
If nothing else, the trip would have given his rookie bodyguards an opportunity to show off their true expertise as pollution investigators.
Fish and turtles began dying a year ago in Bird Creek, near the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.
The cause was found to be an underground influx of warm salty water, a common byproduct of oil-extraction operations.
Pruitt told frustrated ranchers and residents he was on the case, saying, “This area is so pristine and so beautiful that we need to be sure we address this in a meaningful way.”
You can bet he'll find some money in the EPA budget to clean up Bird Creek. Dead turtles would be a bad optic at election time.
E&E News, which covers energy and environmental issues, obtained federal documents revealing that the EPA spent almost $833,000 on Pruitt’s protection detail during his first three months on the job. At that rate, taxpayers will be shelling out more than $3.3 million this year to guard a fellow who most Americans wouldn’t recognize if he was standing behind them in the checkout line at Costco.
Undoubtedly the Koch brothers, petrochemical makers and, of course, the National Stripper Well Association would say that Scott Pruitt is worth every dollar spent guarding him.
Maybe they could all chip in a few, to defray the cost. He is, after all, working for them.
Carl Hiaasen is a Miami Herald columnist, firstname.lastname@example.org.