Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt was in New Hampshire Tuesday for an unpublicized private meeting with Gov. Chris Sununu.
Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt confirmed Sununu and Pruitt met privately in the morning, and said they had no other "stops scheduled later" in the day.
A statement from Sununu sent Tuesday afternoon says the two discussed the Coakley Landfill Superfund site, where the EPA plans to test bedrock to see if contamination is spreading in the local water supply.
“I was pleased to hear the EPA agreed to expedite the bedrock water table testing to further ensure that the Seacoast’s drinking water has not been contaminated by the Coakley Landfill,” said Sununu's statement. “I am confident that the state, and our towns, will have a positive and productive relationship with the EPA moving forward.”
Vihstadt says in another statement that Sununu's meeting with Pruitt also covered:
- New Hampshire’s new law expanding childhood lead testing and funding for lead remediation, as well as Pruitt’s “efforts to increase federal infrastructure funding to ensure drinking water is free of lead";
- Regional EPA Administrator Alexandra Dunn’s visit last week to the Seacoast, where she talked to officials from Rochester, Dover and Portsmouth. All have struggled with wastewater treatment requirements aimed at protecting the Great Bay watershed. Sununu wrote to Pruitt about the issue in January, and Vihstadt says on Tuesday, the two “agreed that we must ensure that towns have the flexibility they need to find cost effective solutions to ensuring that the Great Bay is protected, and ecological restoration can continue";
- Other EPA efforts to give states more “power and flexibility” by streamlining regulations.
Melissa Paly is the Great Bay Waterkeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation. She says she's glad the EPA is focusing on New Hampshire issues, but some aspects of the reported conversation worry her.
"Sometimes that statement of 'we need flexibility' is a euphemism for saying 'we want relief' from what they're claiming is onerous requirements from EPA," she says.
Moreover, Paly says, the lack of transparency around the meeting makes it hard to be sure.
"I feel like public officials should have their schedules public,” she says. “That's not to say there can't be some meetings that aren't, if there's legal issues involved and so on, but it just doesn't feel right."
Asked to comment Tuesday morning, a spokesman told NHPR that all meetings Pruitt attends are posted on the agency's website. No details were posted online at that time, and Pruitt's calendar has not been updated since Feb. 2.
A news release later in the day confirmed parts of the visit. The EPA says Pruitt visited Central Paper Company in Manchester with state forestry advocates and industry representatives to talk about federal biomass policy.
In the great state of #NewHampshire today meeting with forestry sectors about @EPA’s efforts to develop a carbon-neutral policy for biomass and clarify federal procurement recommendations for responsibly managed forests. pic.twitter.com/yOc1EMBunU— Administrator Pruitt (@EPAScottPruitt) February 13, 2018
I saw first-hand the Mohawk Tannery Superfund site while in Nashua, NH. @EPA’s #SuperfundTaskforce is making progress in getting these sites remedied to better protect the health of our citizens & the environment. Learn more about our ongoing efforts ➡️ https://t.co/X8L4kH0zOS pic.twitter.com/zyyoIZT3sW— Administrator Pruitt (@EPAScottPruitt) February 13, 2018
Sources tell NHPR that Pruitt also planned to meet with other federal officials at the Northfield Mountain hydroelectric energy storage facility in Massachusetts.
The trip comes amid controversy over Pruitt's first-class air travel, as reported by the Washington Post, including a $7,000 taxpayer-funded trip to Italy. Politico reports Pruitt flew first-class to Boston Tuesday morning, which Pruitt later confirmed in his interview with the Union-Leader.
This is also not the first private, unpublicized meeting Sununu has had with a top federal official this year. He traveled to Washington last month to visit Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Medicaid administrator Seema Verma and others.
The meetings and topics discussed were not publicized until the end of Sununu's trip.
This story was last updated Wednesday morning, Feb. 14.