EPA Administrator Raises Questions with Special Lexus LC500 Test Drive
Released emails show Toyota arranged special test drive of the new Lexus LC500 for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
As it often said, politics makes for strange bedfellows. And those relationships can often raise both eyebrows, as well as questions. According to ABC News, in November, 2017, Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt was afforded a special opportunity from Toyota to get behind the wheel of a 2018 Lexus LC500 for a test drive. This may be a potentially troubling conflict of interest for the EPA, whose job it is to regulate and monitor compliance for the automotive industry.
Environmental organization The Sierra Club obtained copies of the emails between Pruitt’s office and Tom Stricker, Toyota’s vice president for North America product regulatory affairs. According to the emails, Pruitt was taken by the LC500 and keen to take it out on the road, and Toyota made plans to accommodate him.
“Just today, we took delivery of a brand new Lexus LC500 (the same car we showed him in the parking garage),” Stricker wrote on August, 2017. “Is there a good day in the next week or so for the Administrator to go for a lunchtime drive?” Stricker added that “He [Pruitt] saw one in Texas and seemed excited to take it for a spin.”
Toyota planned to bring the LC500 and a Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen fuel-cell powered car, to the EPA in Washington, DC where Pruitt and one member of his security team could take it for a drive. Stricker wrote, “Just as a reminder, the back seat of the Lexus LC500 is really small, so hopefully, the security person doesn’t mind be [sic] cramped for a few miles.”
Due to scheduling conflicts, the test drive never occurred.
“Something has just come up that needs the Administrator’s immediate attention. Unfortunately, he doesn’t feel that he can leave the office right now. I sincerely apologize for the short notice, but can we postpone to a later date?” Pruitt’s aide wrote. “You have been so gracious and we hope to do this very soon.”
While the test drive was not ultimately rescheduled, many are questioning the ethics of this favor, both on the part of Toyota and the EPA. The was made all the more questionable by its timing. A few weeks after this exchange, Pruitt announced that the EPA would be entering into a special partnership with Toyota. According to Think Progress the EPA announced in December of 2017 that the agency would be working with the automaker to review and overhaul internal management practices. Toyota ultimately decided not to continue with this partnership after several they drew criticism and concerns from several environmental organizations.
Also questionable is the fact that both parties chose to keep this drive on the down-low. “We will not post or tweet anything,” Pruitt’s aides wrote to Toyota. “If we do decide to, we will let you know before we do so, but we are not planning on it.”
Stricker responded, “Great…we won’t post anything either…although my boss said to get some pictures!”
While we won’t deny that the LC500 is a ride that could very well lead us into temptation, this type of interaction could be troubling for both Toyota and the EPA.