Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt frequently flies in first and business class because he’s regularly confronted by angry members of the public during his travels, according to a report in Politico on Thursday.
The EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement told Politico that Pruitt was “approached at the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him,” which spurred the expensive bookings.
“The team leader felt that he was being placed in a situation where he was unsafe on the flight,” Henry Barnet, the office’s director, told Politico. In one instance, someone approached Pruitt and yelled, “You’re fucking up the environment,” Barnet said.
Pruitt has come under fire this week after The Washington Post reported that the administrator was regularly booked in premium cabins, often costing thousands of dollars more than equivalent seats in coach. The report, citing EPA receipts obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, noted several flights cost more than $90,000 in total during a few weeks last June.
Federal regulations mandate government employees travel in the “least expensive class of travel” for their needs, but individuals are allowed to book premium seats if there are security concerns.
The EPA briefly said this week Pruitt had a “blanket wavier” to travel first class but later rolled back its statement when Politico noted that the regulations state that such travel must be approved on a “trip-by-trip basis.” A spokesman later clarified to the news site that Pruitt’s office submitted a waiver seeking an exemption before each trip, citing security concerns.
Until Thursday’s report, it was unclear what those concerns were, although Pruitt defended the bookings in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, blaming what he called a “very toxic environment politically.”
“We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat,” he told the Union Leader on Tuesday.
Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA over the past year has been controversial among environmentalists. The agency has quickly worked to roll back many regulations meant to combat climate change. The agency has also moved to unravel the Clean Water Act and the Clean Power Plan, and Pruitt was one of the driving forces behind President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate deal.
He receives many more threats than his predecessors, E&E News reported in January, and is the first EPA administrator to have a full-time security detail.
The agency also refuses to release many details about Pruitt’s schedule in advance, citing similar security concerns.