AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday defended his regular taxpayer-funded travel and his purchase of the custom soundproof communications booth designed for his office, saying both had been justified.

Pruitt made his initial appearance before a House oversight subcommittee responsible for environmental issues since their confirmation to lead EPA within February. While his fellow Conservatives largely used their time to compliment Pruitt’s leadership, Democrats pressed Pruitt on his proposed rollbacks of environment regulations, his past statements question carbon emissions are primarily the reason for climate change and his spending during office.

The former Oklahoma attorney common is under scrutiny after expenditure reports showed he often simply leaves Washington on Thursdays and Fridays for appearances in westward declares before spending the weekend on his home in Tulsa and after that returning to EPA headquarters on Monday. The EPA’s inspector general happens to be investigating whether Pruitt’s trips break EPA’s travel policies and techniques.

“Every trip I’ve taken to Ok with respect to taxpayer expenses has been company related, ” Pruitt said, just before giving examples of meetings and environment issues in his home state that he or she said required his personal interest. “When I’ve traveled back to their state for personal reasons, I’ve paid for this. And that will bear out in the process. inch

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Co Democrat, asked about the nearly $25, 000 he spent on a custom made soundproof booth for making private telephone calls in his office – something nothing of his predecessors had.

Pruitt stated the booth serves as a Delicate Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF, which typically are secure areas used to house computers and machines for communicating over classified govt networks. Former EPA officials declared that explanation doesn’t make much feeling.

There was already a SCIF from EPA headquarters in Washington exactly where officials with the appropriate levels of protection clearance can go to access classified info. EPA employees rarely deal with govt secrets. The agency does sometimes receive, handle and store categorized material because of its homeland security, crisis response and continuity missions.

Pruitt said he needed the presentation area to have a secure phone line which he could communicate with the White Home, located just a few blocks away.

“Cabinet level officials need to have access to safe communications, ” Pruitt said. “It’s necessary for me to be able to do the job. ”

Committee Democrats furthermore grilled Pruitt over what rating member Frank Pallone of New Shirt called an “unprecedented assault upon independent science” by purging educational experts from federal advisory planks and replacing them with industry associates.

Pruitt in November appointed a brand new slate of members to twenty two boards that provide input on problems such as drinking water standards and pollution limits. For the chairmanship of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, he or she selected a former agency official who seem to became an executive of a firm that burns waste to generate electrical power.

He also said he has banned from the boards current recipients associated with EPA grants or those capable of benefit from them to avoid conflicts appealing. Twenty scientists on three committees have received $77 million in grants or loans, which “causes a perception or look of a lack of independence in guidance the agency on a host associated with issues, ” Pruitt told the particular subcommittee. Pruitt made no this kind of prohibition for those who receive funding through industries regulated by EPA.

Representative. Paul Tonko, D-N. Y., requested specific examples of an EPA offer recipient offering “conflicted advice. inch Pruitt said he could provide “many examples of scientists who received scholarships over a period of time that were substantial plus it called into question that self-reliance, and we addressed that through the plan that we implemented. ”

Tonko stated Pruitt’s EPA was ignoring technological consensus through its downplaying associated with climate change and its approach to rules and eroding staff morale simply by censoring experts.

“I believe ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY has all the signs of an agency taken by industry, ” he mentioned.

Flesher reported from Navigate City, Michigan.

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