Amid mael­strom, EPA chief finds sup­port from con­ser­va­tives.

Ef­forts to elim­i­nate Obama-era ini­tia­tives en­dear him to GOP lead­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Un­like other mem­bers of Pres­i­dent Trump’s Cab­i­net left to dan­gle in the wind when faced with con­tro­versy, con­ser­va­tives have mounted a strong, co­or­di­nated de­fense of em­bat­tled EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt over the past two weeks, ar­gu­ing he’s be­come a tar­get sim­ply be­cause he’s done more to ad­vance the Repub­li­can agenda than any other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

Mr. Pruitt is fac­ing a host of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency in­spec­tor-gen­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions and a White House re­view re­lated to his $50-per-night condo rental from the wife of a prom­i­nent en­ergy in­dus­try lob­by­ist, his ex­pen­sive pri­vate se­cu­rity de­tail, and ques­tions about whether he signed off on raises for two top aides — raises the White House ini­tially re­jected. Those and other is­sues have led to in­creas­ing calls for the ad­min­is­tra­tor to step down, in­clud­ing from a hand­ful of Repub­li­cans.

But prom­i­nent con­ser­va­tives in Congress, along with in­flu­en­tial Repub­li­cans out­side the gov­ern­ment, have rushed to Mr. Pruitt’s de­fense in a way not seen when other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials found them­selves in hot wa­ter.

“I think there’s one pretty sim­ple rea­son: He does stuff,” said Michael McKenna, a Repub­li­can en­ergy lob­by­ist who served on the Trump tran­si­tion team. “Right, left or cen­ter, in Wash­ing­ton, if you do stuff, you’re go­ing to pick up en­e­mies from all kinds of quar­ters.”

In­deed, Mr. Pruitt has taken steps to un­ravel a host of Obama-era en­ergy reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing the coal-crush­ing Clean Power Plan, the Wa­ters of the U.S. rule that gave the gov­ern­ment power over small bod­ies of wa­ter across the coun­try, and oth­ers. He was also one of the loud­est voices in per­suad­ing Mr. Trump to pull out of the Paris cli­mate ac­cord.

Mr, McKenna and other Repub­li­cans ar­gue that Mr. Pruitt’s clear record of ac­com­plish­ment is spurring con­ser­va­tives to come to his de­fense and that the pres­i­dent places a pre­mium on those pol­icy re­sults and knows his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to roll back reg­u­la­tions is what will stand the test of time.

“He’s not go­ing to be judged on whether the EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor got a lit­tle heavy-handed on se­cu­rity,” he said. “No. He’s go­ing to be judged on what was the ef­fect of the EPA on the 300 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who aren’t liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.”

The back­ing of Mr. Pruitt stands in stark con­trast to the aban­don­ment of other top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who re­signed or were fired af­ter eth­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies or pol­icy dis­agree­ments, such as for­mer Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son, for­mer Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin and oth­ers.

But their lists of con­crete ac­com­plish­ments, by all ac­counts, pale in com­par­i­son to that of Mr. Pruitt, and Repub­li­cans have taken note.

“So far, his re­forms are es­ti­mated to save tax­pay­ers over $1 bil­lion in dereg­u­la­tory sav­ings. He’s been an ef­fec­tive mem­ber of the pres­i­dent’s team and I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to work with him to re­store the EPA to its proper size and scope,” Sen. James In­hofe, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, said ear­lier this month.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Repub­li­can, ear­lier this month called Mr. Pruitt “the bravest and most con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of Trump’s Cab­i­net.” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can, said ac­tivists on the left — in­clud­ing “Obama groupies” — want to force the EPA chief out.

“This is so com­pelling. Why do Obama and his me­dia cronies want so badly to drive @EPAS­cot­tPruitt out of of­fice?” he tweeted re­cently.

The lead­ers of groups such as the Tea Party Pa­tri­ots Cit­i­zen Fund, March for Life Ac­tion, Her­itage Ac­tion for Amer­ica, Free­dom Works, the Club for Growth and dozens of oth­ers signed a let­ter ear­lier this month urg­ing the pres­i­dent to stand by Mr. Pruitt.

“He is crit­i­cal to Pres­i­dent Trump’s ef­forts to stream­line agency ef­forts in a way that as­sists Amer­i­can fam­i­lies and the econ­omy. We ap­plaud Pres­i­dent Trump for his ap­point­ment of Scott Pruitt and sup­port his con­tin­ued ten­ure at the EPA,” they wrote.

For his part, Mr. Pruitt has blamed much of the con­tro­versy swirling around him on po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies, in­clud­ing some in­side the EPA it­self, which he de­scribed as a “bas­tion of lib­er­al­ism” dur­ing an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times two weeks ago.

While it’s un­clear how much vot­ers in the up­com­ing midterm elec­tions will care about Mr. Pruitt, his con­tro­ver­sies, or his job per­for­mance, Democrats are us­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tor for their own po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.

“Pruitt’s abuses of power are part of a dis­turb­ing pat­tern in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. That’s not what pub­lic ser­vice is sup­posed to be about,” Sen. Deb­bie Stabenow, Michi­gan Demo­crat, said in a fundrais­ing email Sun­day. “Es­pe­cially when you’re run­ning an agency in charge of pro­tect­ing our en­vi­ron­ment for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt is fac­ing a host of charges af­ter it was re­vealed he was rent­ing a condo in D.C. for $50 a night from an oil lob­by­ist’s wife.

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