June 15, 2018 / 4:57 PM / 2 months ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-EPA's Pruitt got tickets to Rose Bowl football game from PR chief -letter

(Corrects ninth paragraph to say University of Oklahoma played in the game, not Oklahoma State.)

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON, June 15 (Reuters) - Embattled U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt obtained tickets to this year’s Rose Bowl college football game from a public relations executive, said a letter by the top Democrat on the House of Representatives oversight committee released on Friday.

Renzi Stone, chief executive officer of public relations company Saxum, which is based in Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma and does work for energy companies, provided the tickets to Pruitt, said a letter from Representative Elijah Cummings, a copy of which was seen by Reuters. The letter, addressed to Stone, was first reported by The Washington Post.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said it seemed Cummings “is misconstruing the facts.”

“Stone, a friend of Administrator Pruitt and regent to the University of Oklahoma, simply connected Pruitt to the athletic department. Pruitt purchased the tickets at face value from the OU athletic department,” Wilcox said.

Stone said in a tweet that Pruitt “asked through an aide if he could buy Rose Bowl tix. I made connection to OU ticket office. He bought them. That’s it.”

Federal ethics rules prohibit government employees from accepting gifts, such as tickets to sports games, unless they pay market value. Gifts include any favor, discount, or entertainment that has monetary value.

Pruitt has been under scrutiny amid reports involving questionable spending on first class plane tickets, use of security detail, connections with lobbyists and industry groups and use of his office for favors.

He currently faces a dozen investigations by the Office of the Inspector General, Congress and the White House.

In the letter, Cummings asked Stone for documents regarding his actions in providing Pruitt the coveted tickets for the game, in which the University of Oklahoma played Georgia.

Former Pruitt aide Millan Hupp, who was interviewed by lawmakers on the committee in May, said in the letter that Pruitt got the tickets for himself and his family from Stone. Hupp said Pruitt paid for the tickets but did not know how much.

At least one of Saxum’s clients, Plains All American Pipeline, has a petition before the EPA to discharge test water from a pipeline in Corpus Christi, Texas, the letter said.

Plains All American spokesman Brad Leone said his company was no longer a client of Saxum and that their association ended in November 2017.

Stone said in the tweet Saxum does not do “any work for clients at EPA,” and that he would respond to Cummings’ request for documents.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Pruitt, despite the mounting ethics scandals, for the work he has done to overturn regulations put in place by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Several Republican senators have called for a hearing later this year to look into Pruitt’s scandals, but stopped short of calling for him to resign.

Senator John Barrasso, the Republican head of the Senate environment committee that has oversight over the EPA, has said he intends to call Pruitt back up to the committee after an initial hearing held in January. Before doing so, Barrasso is waiting for findings from reviews into Pruitt’s ethics by the EPA inspector general and the White House.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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