Sorry for one of the longest headlines here ever, but OC’s own Hugh Hewitt, the conservative Trump apologist on MSNBC, brokered a meeting with former EPA chief Mike Pruitt which fast tracked an EPA clean up of a polluted Orange County site. Hewitt’s son worked for Pruitt as a spokesperson for the EPA and the site — managed by the Orange County Water District — uses Larson O’Brien, a law firm Hewitt works for which raises ethical issues with Hewitt’s role with MSNBC.
From the Politico story:
“I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”
Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.
Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.
Since then, Hewitt has been a robust defender of Pruitt, dismissing his recent controversies as “nonsense scandals” on MSNBC in early April and saying his detractors were “just trying to stop the deregulation effort.”
Pruitt has touted the agency’s Superfund work as one of his key priorities, setting up a task force to seek to speed up the clean-up of the nation’s worst contaminated sites. That task force had been headed by Albert “Kell” Kelly, a former banker and longtime friend, who departed the agency last week after news about loans he provided to Pruitt in Oklahoma, including the mortgage provided to Pruitt for a house he bought from a lobbyist when he was a state senator.
Environmental advocates have worried Pruitt’s efforts to identify Superfund priority sites would bypass the process set up by Congress to ensure cleanup resources are divided fairly, and that he could focus on sites seen as important to his political supporters.
Hewitt in an email to POLITICO called Pruitt a friend and said he does not have a working relationship with him. He said that his firm has represented the water district and worked on the site with EPA’s regional office for years but that he had not participated in that work.
Hewitt said he requested a meeting because the water district wanted to brief the new EPA team, he said, adding that he was an Orange County resident until 2016 as well as an Orange County Children and Families Commission member. He said that he “very much” wanted the Superfund site remediated as soon as possible.
According to an EPA fact sheet, the Orange County site has more than five square miles of polluted groundwater containing chlorinated solvents and other contaminants across the cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, and Placentia. It includes the Orange County Groundwater Basin, which provides drinking water to more than 2.4 million residents across 22 cities, according to the agency. Those pollutants can damage humans’ nervous systems, kidneys and livers, and some are considered carcinogenic.
Hewitt also arranged a meeting with Pruitt with the Lincoln Club, an OC conservative institution.
Hewitt’s involvement came to light as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club. The emails released by the EPA showed that Pruitt’s staff hopped on Hewitt’s request a year ago. Hewitt had been one of Pruitt’s strongest supporters in spite of documented news reports about Pruitt’s lavish spending, security detail, pricey travel and securing a dirt cheap DC condo rental from a lobbyist. Pruitt has since resigned.