Pruitt Abuses Safe Drinking Water Act to Pay Cronies

An in-depth review by The Atlantic today showed that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has been abusing a provision in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The provision authorizes EPA to quickly hire urgently-needed experts into the agency without having to comply with certain civil service rules or get Senate or White House approval. Instead, Pruitt used that provision to give huge pay increases to two close and largely-inexperienced aides who are currently employed at the agency and politically connected to him. He also used this provision to hire Nancy Beck, a former lobbyist for the chemical industry trade group, to run the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

These actions are a clear abuse of this provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act. Congress added this to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1977 to enable EPA to address critical needs to hire new technical, scientific, and other experts that the agency would otherwise have a hard time bringing on board.

When Congress enacted the law, the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce Report explained that, “There have been extensive discussions and negotiations between the Civil Service Commission, [the Office of Management and Budget], and the [Environmental Protection] Agency to determine the most critical needs for additional personnel and the most effective way of providing appointment authorities to meet those needs.” (H.R. Rep.No. 338, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 1977, 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 3648, at 3663, 1977 WL 16117 (Leg.Hist.)(emphasis added).)

Similarly, during the Senate’s consideration of this provision, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jennings Randolph said, “The provision was intended to augment the Agency’s cadre of senior management and scientific personnel....” (Floor statement of Sen. Randolph, Nov. 1, 1977, SDWA Legislative History at 249.)

The provision was intended to allow EPA to hire critically-needed senior scientific and other experts. It was not intended to give huge salary increases to two political hacks who the Administrator already brought on staff. It was not intended to allow the Administrator to hire a chemical industry lobbyist like Nancy Beck so she could evade ethics guidelines that block her from deciding on issues she’d worked on for the chemical industry. It was not intended to allow her to avoid Senate approval because she would have faced major opposition to Senate confirmation.

This is an abuse of power and is entirely consistent with the corrupt Pruitt regime.

We’re not fooled by the smoke and mirrors: Scott Pruitt is protecting polluters, not people or their drinking water. It’s the height of hypocrisy for Pruitt’s EPA to try to take credit it doesn’t deserve for fixing the Flint water crisis (the law funding $100 million for Flint was signed by President Obama in December, 2016), while at the same time using the safe drinking water law to give his favorite aides big salary boosts and apparently to try to evade important legal and ethics requirements. That’s not protecting public health, it’s putting it at grave risk—and insulting Americans' intelligence in the process.”

Additional resources:

NRDC: The Case for Firing Scott Pruitt

NRDC & the Flint Water Crisis