Dirty Energy Lobbyist Wheeler Confirmed by Senate for EPA Deputy Administrator

Saul Bowman
April 14, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has used four government email accounts since assuming office, and two Democratic senators are anxious the complex setup may have allowed the administrator to dodge demands for public records.

Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign aide who until recently served as Pruitt's deputy chief of staff for operations, told congressional staffers that Pruitt routinely pushed for unjustified expenditures on his travel, lodging and changes to his office, and that he marginalized employees who questioned his directives.

Chmielewski served as a key staffer for the Trump campaign before being hired at EPA past year to help oversee the agency's budget and expenditures.

In the eight page letter to Pruitt, the lawmakers write: "Mr. Chmielewski provided new details and corroborated other reports regarding allegations of wasteful spending on taxpayer funds and your disregard for the ethical and legal requirements of your position".

EPA's press office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Thursday, two Democratic senators also claimed that Pruitt has maintained "secret" email accounts while head of the EPA.

"We will respond to Members of Congress through the proper channel", Wilcox told the Daily News. "They need to know we're not intimidated and we're going to blow the whistle on anything even borderline questionable".

Pruitt also allegedly exceeded the amount he was allowed to spend at hotels per night, and twice refused the recommendations from the US embassy on worldwide trips to Italy and Australia because he wanted to stay in more expensive locations.

Amid controversy around Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Senate has confirmed the nominee for the agency's No. 2 position.

Pruitt praised Wheeler's confirmation in a statement Thursday.

"Mr. Wheeler's former boss, our colleague Senator Inhofe, says, quote, 'there is no one more qualified.' Our former colleague Senator Lieberman has called Mr. Wheeler 'fair and professional, ' and said 'I hope his nomination will receive. fair consideration by the Senate, '" he said on the Senate floor. "It is the EPA's job to regulate coal to protect public health and the environment".

Chmielewski told investigators he was sidelined at Pruitt's direction after refusing to retroactively approve a first-class plane ticket for another EPA political appointee, Samantha Dravis.

Pruitt also pressured staffers to book him on Delta, "because you want to accrue more frequent flier miles", even though the airline didn't have a contract with the feds, according to the letter.

Tom Udall said the mounting allegations against Pruitt mean "it is time for his imperial tenure to end".

"A career EPA staffer predicted Caraballo's dismissal would stiffen the resolve of Pruitt's critics within the agency", Politico reported.

But President Trump has stood by Pruitt, claiming that he's doing a "great" job under "siege". "And I'll hold him accountable to make sure he implements the mission of the EPA in a way that works for my state".

In an interview with E&E News, Patrick Sullivan, EPA's assistant IG for investigations, said the watchdog opened roughly 70 threat probes in fiscal 2017, including cases and complaints related to EPA facilities and personnel.

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