More than 12 hours after a tour of Whiting, Indiana that was labeled secret, even by local enforcement who were not informed until the last minute, a spokesman for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed back.
The spokesman noted that the EPA issued a press release Thursday stating that Pruitt “signed a memorandum to accelerate removal of lead contamination in Indiana” and “that action authorizes $1.7 million to address lead contamination in soil that could affect citizens.”
That press release was posted on the EPA website, but not sent to local reporters.
Pruitt’s visit to the northwest Indiana region was not announced to the press and an EPA union employee said “Pruitt kept his visit to the region a secret from regional employees. He may have met with EPA management, but he did so secretly.”
The official spokesman for the EPA told NBC 5 Pruitt, as well as Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahara, EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp and Governor Eric Holcomb were part of the tour. Stahara and Holcomb’s office did not return NBC 5 phone calls. NBC's call to the EPA was not returned until an email was sent after 10 p.m. Thursday.
Pruitt did not speak with the onsite coordinator for the EPA, who is the point person for the Whiting-area superfund site. He was at Pruitt and Holcomb’s visit Thursday, but a source with knowledge tells NBC 5 “he was told to stand in the back” and did not meet with Pruitt.
While Pruitt was in town, union employees held a news conference in Chicago criticizing Pruitt for refusing to meet with them. However, Pruitt’s spokesman Lincoln Ferguson said Pruitt met with “the hardworking staff to get an update on important issues and improvements taking place in Region 5.”
Union EPA employees say “he met with handpicked management and state directors. No one saw Pruitt enter or exit the building. We found out he was in the building by random reports that folks saw him up on the 19th floor.”
The union spokesman also notes Pruitt met with state directors, and they are appointees but “not employed by the EPA.”
The Chicago regional office has 87 fewer employees since January 2017.
Finally, Pruitt’s spokesman called the numerous media reports false that he attended a Cubs game last year after his visit to the same northwest Indiana area. That spokesman added “he didn’t attend one this year.” The Cubs played the Cardinals Thursday afternoon.
Thursday, the EPA Inspector General announced he will investigate if Pruitt used his security detail for personal trips including to attend the Rose Bowl, Disneyland and college basketball games.