- - Wednesday, August 30, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Environmental Protection Agency regards itself as the dispenser of the good and the just, protector of the snail darter and keeper of the land and everything on it. Anyone who questions this article of the faith can expect trouble.

But one who does is Scott Pruitt, the new director of the EPA, who, when he was the attorney general of Oklahoma, described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Many officers, clerks, scribes and other manufacturers of red tape and endless litigation in the vast EPA bureaucracy, have declared war on him.

Responding to pressure from Democrats and environmental groups, the EPA’s inspector general has opened an investigation of Mr. Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded travel, mostly to and from Oklahoma in the weeks he was establishing himself in Washington.

Such an inquiry, if done in good faith, would be all to the good. Nobody needs oversight like a government bureaucrat, and EPA bureaucrats most of all. But if this is just another attempt to obstruct the new administration just because it’s not the Hillary Clinton administration, diverting his attention from the necessary task of undoing many of the Obama administration EPA’s regulatory excesses, that’s not good.

The EPA has needed such oversight. Mr. Pruitt’s predecessor, Lisa Jackson, who was Mr. Obama’s first director of the EPA, was caught conducting agency business under an assumed email identity, “Richard Windsor,” to avoid scrutiny mandated by open-records laws. She was duly sacked. An audit of Mr. Pruitt’s travels will examine the “frequency, cost and extent” of his travels to Oklahoma and back from mid-February, when he joined the new administration, through the end of July.

Mr. Pruitt appears to have spent half of his first three months in his new job in Oklahoma, according to figures compiled by something called the Environmental Integrity Project, a private “green watchdog” group. This watchdog estimates his travel cost the government $12,000, which hardly rises to petty cash in Washington. His critics suggest that some of the travel could be, might be, tied to plans to run for higher office back home.

“While [Mr.] Pruitt has every right to return to Oklahoma, he can’t expect American taxpayers to foot the bill for politically motivated or personal travel,” says Melanie Sloan, a “senior adviser” to American Oversight, another liberal watchdog.

“At a time in which Administrator Pruitt is slashing EPA offices dedicated to water and air safety, it’s heartening that the inspector general is taking steps to protect taxpayer money and curb [Mr.] Pruitt’s spendthrift travel.”

Mr. Pruitt says his tormentors are disgruntled EPA employees. “Their facts are wrong, and that’s not a surprise, but it’s an alt-EPA,” he said. “It’s a group of employees that worked for Mr. Obama and formed an organization to put out these kinds of things that are not accurate or forthcoming,” he told an interviewer in Oklahoma.

A run for higher office seems improbable, unlikely and it would be woefully underfinanced. The lieutenant governor is regarded as heir apparent to Gov. Mary Fallin next year, neither of the state’s two U.S. senators are up for re-election next year, and $12,000 would hardly be enough to finance a race for an elected seat on a school board in rural Oklahoma (or anywhere else).

But if he used government money to buy a cup of coffee and a doughnut, or for any other nefarious purpose, and the EPA inspector general finds evidence of it, Mr. Pruitt should pay back the money. But if this is just an attempt to further obstruct the draining of the swamp, truth will out, as it usually does. There may be a scandal here, but it may be a scandal of malicious prosecution.

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