Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt — a climate change denier who is pushing for sweeping budget cuts at the agency — apparently has no qualms about loosely spending some of that budget on himself.
In his first seven months on the job, the former Oklahoma attorney general has racked up a questionable tab that includes non-commercial airfare, an unprecedented security detail and a soundproof booth for making confidential phone calls.
CBS News reported Wednesday that Pruitt and other EPA staff took a private flight July 27 from Tulsa to Guymon, Oklahoma, where Pruitt spoke to farmers about his plans to nix the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States rule. The flight, booked by the Interior Department as part of an inter-agency program, later took the group to Oklahoma City. The total cost: $14,285.71.
In all, Pruitt’s non-commercial airfare has cost taxpayers more than $58,000, according to reports by CBS and The Washington Post. That includes a $36,068.50 flight aboard a military jet to and from Cincinnati, where he joined President Donald Trump for a speech on infrastructure, and a $5,719.58 chartered flight from Denver to Durango, Colorado, to visit the Gold King Mine, where two years earlier the EPA caused a wastewater spill that polluted waterways in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
During the visit to Colorado, Pruitt blasted the Obama administration for failing to protect local communities and the environment.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told HuffPost that Pruitt has taken one charter flight and three government flights; however, she did not respond to questions about what those flights’ costs were and why they were required. She did, however, tell The Washington Post that Pruitt usually flies commercial and that the private flights stemmed from unusual circumstances, including flight delays.
News of Pruitt’s costly travel comes as other members of Trump’s Cabinet — namely Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — are facing similar backlash over the use of private or military aircraft for government business. The EPA also came under fire this week after it was reported that the agency is spending nearly $25,000 on a soundproof “privacy booth” in Pruitt’s office. While Bowman told The Washington Post that the booth “is something which a number, if not all, cabinet offices have,” a salesman for the company installing the room told The New York Times it was unusual and ended up costing nearly four times that of comparable booths.
Liz Purchia, the former head of communications at EPA, told CNN the expenditure is “the height of paranoia.”
Pruitt has also made headlines for maintaining a round-the-clock security detail that cost more than $830,000 for his first three months on the job, nearly double that of his predecessors, as E&E News reported in July.
Last month, the EPA’s office of inspector general launched an investigation into Pruitt’s travel after it was revealed that he spent 43 out of 92 days in March, April and May in or traveling to or from Oklahoma. On Wednesday, in light of Pruitt’s use of private aircraft, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested the office of inspector general expand its investigation.
“Administrator Pruitt’s reported use of private aircraft is just the latest example of repeated and blatant abuse of taxpayer funds by the Trump Administration,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) and the others wrote in a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins.
“American taxpayers deserve assurances that their tax dollars are not wasted by the government’s highest officials.”
Pruitt has also traveled to states including Pennsylvania, Missouri and Indiana, where — on the taxpayer’s dime — he has blasted the Obama administration for its so-called war on coal and accused it of mishandling the EPA’s Superfund program.
The seemingly frivolous spending by Pruitt comes as he and Trump are looking to ax the agency’s funding to just $5.65 billion ― a 31.4 percent reduction — and eliminated up to one-fifth of the agency’s staff.
Pruitt, who has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, said in February that those who want to see the EPA eliminated completely are “justified” in their beliefs. He has defended Trump’s proposal for a reduced agency, saying it “supports EPA’s highest priorities.”
“I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,” he told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee in June, The Washington Post reported.