The head of the Environmental Protection Agency faced renewed scrutiny this week—with the latest allegations of unethical behavior veering, at times, into the utterly absurd.
For example, Scott Pruitt reportedly attempted to use his position to secure a Chick-Fil-A franchise for his wife; dispatched an aide look into purchasing a mattress from Trump International Hotel; and had security agents drive him multiple places in search of a moisturizing lotion available at Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
It is strictly prohibited for public servants to ask subordinates to do personal errands, so this Mad Lib menagerie of ethical breaches is notably high-risk, low-reward. Together these stories paint a picture of a man who is not simply misusing his office—misappropriating taxpayer funded resources for personal convenience and profit—but appears to not even appreciate that this is wrong. If you’re going to abuse your power in such a way that could get you fired, at least go big.
Pruitt’s apparent habits are more like conspicuously unbuckling his seatbelt only when he’s about to pass a police car. Which is why the lotion story is particularly compelling. Did he think this was big? Is moisturizer so important as to risk one’s career to procure the perfect bottle?
I did some investigative work and found that Ritz-Carlton sells a product called “The Ritz-Carlton Moisturizer” on its website for $27.20 (16-ounce bottle, on sale). The information was available to me using Google.com. The deployment of taxpayer-funded resources for personal errands is only more galling when those errands could have been done in less than one minute online.
Skin moisturizer has legitimate medical uses, and legitimate recreational uses. Moisturizing lotion is a vital part of many people’s self-care and even health-maintenance routines. But in an emergency dry-skin situation, lotion from any corner drugstore or colleague’s desk should suffice until the end of the workday. It can be purchased in functionally comparable forms from Walmart for $3.24.
Of course it’s possible that The Ritz-Carlton Moisturizer was not the one Pruitt sought. (Though, again, it is called The Ritz-Carlton Moisturizer.) The hotel’s site also sells The Ritz-Carlton brand Spa Refreshing Moisturizer ($58.65 for a 32-ounce bottle), as well as Asprey brand Purple Water Hand and Body Lotion ($37.50 for a 10-ounce bottle). None of the above products list ingredients, so it’s not possible to know how they might actually differ in their physical properties from more competitively priced alternatives.
Moisturizer serves as a protective shell against an inhospitable world, a fortification of the self-other barrier. But various products do this in various ways. Some work largely as occlusives that hold water in the skin. Others contain more humectants that draw water in. Still others have more emollients that coat the skin and make it feel smooth.
All that consumers can know of The Ritz-Carlton Moisturizer is what a copywriter says it smells like (“top notes of jasmine, bergamot and ylang-ylang”). These are the description of a product meant not simply to heal unhealthy skin, but to make a person feel luxurious for owning it. This level of moisturizer is for covering oneself in wealth and blocking out the effects of the external environment with words that sound like they must smell good.
What can be known of the moisturizer is that Pruitt will need more and more of it if his agency continues to undermine efforts to mitigate climate change, undoing three decades of clean air and water regulation. Hotter air tends to dry skin more than cool air, and deadly heat waves are expected to increase by a factor of five to ten by 2070. Climate scientists at Columbia and NASA predict that heat stress may prove “one of the most widely experienced and directly dangerous aspects of climate change, posing a severe threat to human health, energy infrastructure, and outdoor activities ranging from agricultural production to military training.”
So if you’re going to command subordinates to find you a good moisturizer, ideally make it one that doubles as a sunscreen. And one that’s edible in the event of famine. And can be used for self defense in the event of war. Reapply, reapply, reapply.