Even before his Senate confirmation, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt mulled running the EPA at least part-time from his hometown of Tulsa, seeking office space there, emails show.
Pruitt ultimately dropped that plan, the EPA told members of Congress in a letter dated June 19.
“Although the EPA staff did explore whether office space was available in Tulsa, this possibility was ultimately abandoned,” Troy Lyons associated EPA administrator said in a letter to members of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Why and when plans for a new EPA office in Tulsa were scrapped is still unclear.
Members of the House committee had sought information from the EPA about Pruitt’s plans to open an office in Tulsa, citing ethical concerns.
“Establishing a new EPA office in Tulsa may be personally convenient for you, but it seems ethically questionable, professionally unnecessary, and financially unjustified,” House Democrats wrote in a letter to Pruitt in May.
Emails released by the EPA this past week show Pruitt wanted to work from his hometown of Tulsa part of the time and was looking to lease a “small” personal office there.
The federal building in Tulsa was full, so Pruitt wanted to find somewhere else to work, according to the emails.
“Mr. Pruitt is interested in a small space – lobby, conference room, personal office. 24-hour access. Garage parking preferred. He will travel with security detail and they will need appropriate space – whatever that is,” an EPA staffer wrote in an email in February 2017.
In emails discussing the plan, staffers said Pruitt required a “secure cabinet or safe” as well as a secure room to receive classified information from President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet.
Pruitt also wanted to work from home at least part of the time, emails show. In one email conversation between an EPA staffer and Ryan Jackson, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the EPA raised concerns that donated office space would be a public relations problem for Pruitt.
“’gifted’ or ‘donated space could be an optics issue. We can investigate other Federal agencies with office space in Tulsa, or even Congressional space in Tulsa, such as Sen. Inhofe’s district office, but I didn’t want to wave that flag yet. Again, optics. But let me know,” the EPA staffer wrote.
Another issue was that the EPA did not want the cost of the new office space to show up as a line item in a congressional bill.
“They were going to check to see if the cost for the space would be rolled into EPA bill and not show as a specific line item,” the staffer wrote. “They thought these questions would be the same if we were to lease our own EPA space or whether we would come to some arrangement with another agency.”