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Bill Straub: Worst member of a historically rotten cabinet — drum roll, please — Yes, it’s Scott Pruitt


Identifying the worst member of President Trump’s historically rotten cabinet is akin to picking out the most malodorous skunk at a polecat farm.

The senses reel.

Literally.

Amazingly, despite the presence of jaw-dropping incompetents like Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one contender is lapping the field and, to borrow the renowned phrase of Loudon Wainwright III, is “stinking to high heaven.”

Scott Pruitt

Forget for the moment that Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, is working intensely to stop any and all efforts to clear the sky, clean the streams and help maintain the health of the citizens he is sworn to protect. Don’t let it perturb you that Scotty is making life miserable for asthma sufferers and those who desire clean drinking water for their kids. Don’t think twice, it’s all right that decades of work to address the soiled nest that was America could reappear under Pruitt’s watch.

No, concentrate for the moment instead that Scott Pruitt is a grifter, a cheap chiseler, a hack, a sycophant, a charlatan, a rogue and an industry tool who maintains relations with those who seek to undermine efforts to make the globe a livable place.

Now an argument can be made that those qualities do nothing but put him in good stead with the current occupant of the White House. But if there is anyone on god’s once green earth who has to go, other than the president himself, of course, it’s Edward Scott Pruitt, who, as former New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie recently noted, “never should have been there in the first place.’’

And there’s abundant proof to back all that up.

Pruitt, who was born in Danville, grew up in Lexington and earned a short-lived scholarship to play second base on the University of Kentucky baseball team before transferring to Georgetown College, never did much science learnin’ during his Bluegrass scholastic career – he scoffs at claims that carbon dioxide is a key driver of climate change and maintains that warming temperatures might actually benefit civilization, assertions that leave the scientific community aghast.

But that doesn’t mean Pruitt didn’t learn anything growing up in my old Kentucky home. Before packing bag and baggage, crib and cribbage and heading down to Oklahoma where he would become a state senator and attorney general, he apparently absorbed that hard truths about politics Kentucky-style, famously described by Judge James H. Mulligan as “the damndest.”

That is, he’s reaping full benefits of his high position. Mike Royko, the late, great columnist for the old Chicago Daily News, often suggested that the Windy City’s motto should be “Ubi Est Mea’’ – Latin for “where’s mine?’’ Say that with a drawl and you have Bluegrass politics in a nutshell.

As your national environmental protector (yeah, funny isn’t it?) Pruitt is making hay while the sun shines.

First there was the travel. Pruitt apparently is afraid fellow passengers on flights carrying him to various destinations that afford him the opportunity to discuss ruining the environment might be mean to him. So, rather than travel coach as federal regulations demand, Pruitt chose military, charter and first-class flights, racking up more than $168,000 in air travel his first year on the job even though cheaper options were available. That includes several trips between DC and his Oklahoma home on the taxpayers’ tab.

To that, add mucho dinero for the entourage that travels with him — $90,000 in just one week last year. And when he remains at a destination overnight it’s not Motel 6 leaving the light on for him – a one night stand at a Manhattan hotel came to $669.

Pruitt is extremely security conscious. The EPA administrator has 24-hour protection that costs, according to an analysis by CNN, about $2 million a year for travel, training, equipment and other niceties. The detail accompanies him wherever he might go – including trips to Disneyland, a well-known hot bed for violence, and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

On top of that Pruitt had his office swept for surveillance bugs at a cost of $3,000 and then spent $5,800 to install biometric locks with fingerprint readers as if he were operating the CIA, exhibiting concern that some Spotted Owls might come in and trash the joint. He also spent more than $42,000 to build a “privacy booth for the administrator” – basically a secure telephone booth — in his office, perhaps inspired by the “cone of silence’’ used by Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, and The Chief in Get Smart.

And there is the so-called talent he’s bringing into the EPA. Albert Kelly, a former banker who loaned money to Pruitt to purchase a home and millions to buy a minor league baseball team in Oklahoma City – turning a tidy profit when he sold it, by the way – is being paid $172,000 a year as the administrator’s senior advisor despite lack of any experience or expertise in environmental management.

Kelly, it should be noted, has been banned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from ever working in the banking sector again and is facing $125,000 in fines.

But of course the big brouhaha involves Pruitt’s living accommodations. In a nutshell, Pruitt had the sweetest of sweetheart deals for the first six months of 2017, all provided by the wife of a well-connected energy sector lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, who contributed to Pruitt’s past political campaigns. It’s worth noting that one of Hart’s clients received EPA approval for a natural gas pipeline extension while Pruitt resided at the property.

Gov. Matt Bevin

The pad, about a block from the Capitol, cost Pruitt just $50 a night in a town where you can’t find a cold beer for less than $7 (believe me, I’ve looked). Under the arrangement, Pruitt only had to fork over the dough on nights he spent there and the property couldn’t be rented out on nights he was away. His daughter, who was a White House intern for a period, also stayed at said condo.

As an aside, Pruitt decided to head to the condo for a little nap one afternoon. For whatever reason, his large and well-appointed security detail became concerned about his whereabouts and broke down the door to enter the property looking for him. Damages, paid for by the taxpayer, came to $2,460.

In other words, Pruitt is pretty free and easy with the taxpayer’s coin – as long as it benefits him.

Of course he has his defenders. Oh, look, there’s St. Matt the Divine, the governor of the Commonwealth, crusher of all evil, like teachers, rushing to the parapets using Twitter as his sword. Pruitt is being attacked, St. Matt snarled, “because they say he paid too much for certain plane tickets but too little for renting a room to sleep in…’’

Well, yeah, one expense came out of federal coffers while the other came out of his own pocket, to his personal benefit. But leave us proceed.

“Their phony, hypocritical attacks ring are pathetic,’’ St Matt, mixing up his Tweets much like his hero, The Donald. “The truth is they despise him because he is a rare combination of intellect, competence and fearlessness and their liberal friends feel threatened by him…’’

Well, anyone who appreciates air you can breathe, water you can drink and is concerned about turning those who populate the planet into a bunch of hothouse tomatoes is, indeed, afraid of him, but hardly for the reasons cited, none of which are in evidence. In fact, that’s baloney.

Other than his new best friend, POTUS, according to St. Matt, “there is arguably no individual in America doing more to cut red tape and instill common sense into the political swamp’’ than his boy Pruitt.

Really, doing nothing to address global climate change, in fact dismissing it, is common sense?

Come to think of it, that does sound like your modus operandi.

Anyway, Pruitt still has his job, and there’s even talk about running for governor of Oklahoma and, dare I say it president of these United States.

That, of course, will be impossible. The American people will never put up with a president who turns his or her back on science, promotes programs that hurt the weak and the frail, uses his/her office for personal benefit, places the nation in unnecessary danger. . .

Wait a minute. . .never mind. I take it all back.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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One Comment

  1. Judith Oetinger says:

    I find Scott Pruitt to be the worst of the worst. I was scared when he was put in charge of the EPA and am now in tears over what he has done to undo all that was fought for and, on the road to mending, of our environment.
    He has abused his privileges of his office and the tax payer’s pocket. When he decided his office had to be guarded more so than an CIA director..he must have feared repercussions for obvious reasons. I am disgusted with this man and will continue the fight, thru legitimate means, to save the environment for our children and their children. He can’t go away fast enough and God save Oklahoma if he runs for governor.
    Thank you, Bill, for your usual forthright wit and wisdom.

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