Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Chief, Rented Residence From Wife of Energy Lobbyist

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been the subject of questions from the House Oversight Committee about his travel expenses.

WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, rented a residence in Washington in 2017 that was partly owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist whose firm, according to disclosure forms, conducted business before the E.P.A. that same year.

While the agency said on Friday that the arrangement was consistent with federal ethics rules, the developments come as Mr. Pruitt is already under fire from Congress regarding unrelated ethics questions. In February, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee ordered Mr. Pruitt to turn over documents related to his first-class travel at taxpayer expense, questioning whether he had received the appropriate waivers to do so.

The housing arrangement surfaced on Thursday after ABC News reported that Mr. Pruitt had paid $50 per night to rent a bedroom in a condominium on Capitol Hill for the first half of 2017. The E.P.A. later shared documents with Bloomberg News showing that the arrangement was not a traditional monthly rental agreement; instead Mr. Pruitt paid only for the nights that he slept in the room. His payments amounted to $6,100 over six months.

A typical full studio or one-bedroom apartment in the same area would cost between $1,500 and $2,000 per month or much more, a search of current listings indicates. In a statement, Jahan Wilcox, an E.P.A. spokesman, referred to a memo from the agency’s designated ethics counsel, dated Friday, saying that, “Under the terms of the lease, if the space was utilized for one 30-day month, then the rental cost would be $1,500, which is a reasonable market value.”

Federal ethics rules generally prohibit employees in the executive branch from receiving outside gifts. Mr. Wilcox said the memo showed that the housing arrangement “was not a gift and the lease was consistent with federal ethics regulations.”

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who until last July was the director of the Office of Government Ethics, pointed out that federal ethics guidelines say that “employees should consider declining gifts when they believe that their integrity or impartiality would be questioned if they were to accept the gift.”

According to the E.P.A., the landlord of the building was Vicki Hart, the president and founder of a health care lobbying firm that does not have business before the agency.

Her husband, J. Steven Hart, is the chairman of a Washington lobbying firm, Williams & Jensen, with several energy clients including OGE Energy Corporation, Cheniere Energy and Colonial Pipeline.

According to lobbying disclosure records, Mr. Hart’s firm reported lobbying the E.P.A. on behalf of OGE Energy, an energy company based in Oklahoma, on greenhouse gas regulations and other rules affecting electric utilities. The forms were previously reported by E&E News.

Mr. Hart did not respond to a request for comment.

E&E News reported that Mr. Hart said that he had not personally lobbied the E.P.A. in the past two years and was unaware that his firm had done so, and that a federal disclosure form listing him as having lobbied the E.P.A. on behalf of a glass-container manufacturer was an error that he would ask to have corrected.

Democrats in Congress were quick to criticize the agency chief. “From the very beginning, Scott Pruitt has acted as if the E.P.A. is his own personal fiefdom,” Representative John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, who sits on the House committee that oversees the agency, said in a statement.

Mr. Pruitt’s relationships with both Mr. Hart and OGE Energy go back several years. In 2014, Mr. Hart held a fund-raising event for Mr. Pruitt while Mr. Pruitt was the attorney general of Oklahoma. The Washington Post quoted Mr. Hart on Friday saying that he was a “casual friend” of Mr. Pruitt’s and hadn’t had contact with him “for many months.”

As Oklahoma attorney general, Mr. Pruitt joined with one of OGE Energy’s subsidiaries, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, to sue the Obama administration over a regional haze rule that would have required coal-fired power plants to install pollution controls. Mr. Pruitt eventually lost his case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.

In March 2017, Mr. Pruitt met with OGE Energy as well as a lobbyist in Mr. Hart’s firm, according to a copy of his daily schedule that was released last year. Also last year, the E.P.A. asked a federal court to delay the haze rule requirements for Texas. A federal court later denied the request.

Brian Alford, a spokesman for OGE Energy, said the company was previously unaware of Mr. Pruitt’s rental agreement.

Mr. Hart’s firm through the end of 2017 also represented Cheniere Energy, lobbying on issues “related to the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), approval of LNG exports and export facilities,” according to a disclosure report.

Mr. Pruitt traveled to Morocco last year to promote the export of natural gas. That trip is the subject of an investigation by the E.P.A.’s inspector general, based on requests from Senate Democrats.

In a statement, Rachel Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Cheniere Energy, noted that the company had not been aware of Mr. Pruitt’s rental arrangement and had not used Mr. Hart’s company to lobby the E.P.A.

Jeffrey Lagda, a spokesman for the Office of Inspector General, said his office had been made aware of Mr. Pruitt’s living arrangement and declined to say whether the office was considering an investigation.

On Friday, ABC News reported that Mr. Pruitt’s daughter had also lived in the apartment, while she held an internship at the White House last summer. In its statement, the E.P.A. said, “The lease authorized use by the administrator and his immediate family, specifically including his spouse and children, and consistent with that provision of the lease his immediate family did stay there when they were in Washington, DC.”

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