EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Has a Very Good Reason for All That First-Class Travel

February 14, 2018, 10:26 PM UTC

Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt has racked up thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded first-class travel. But Pruitt has a good reason: people sitting in coach are security risks.

Pruitt explained to the New Hampshire Union Leaderafter flying first class from Washington DC to visit the state’s governor and tour a toxic dump site—that security decisions made by others dictated he fly first class or on military jets at taxpayer expense.

“Unfortunately, … we’ve had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe,” Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment. 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.”

Pruitt has “has a blanket waiver to fly in first or business class” because of security concerns, an EPA spokesperson told CBS News in a separate statement.

Government workers are allowed to fly business or first class when there are no cheaper options “reasonably available” or if under exceptional security circumstances, according to federal regulations.

But Pruitt’s travel activity, which is frequent, has been particularly expensive for taxpayers. Pruitt is also the first EPA administrator to have round-the-clock security. Previous administrators only had a security detail when working or in transit. Pruitt’s security detail cost $832,735.40 in salary and travel expenses for his first quarter at the agency, according to E&E News obtained records last year under the Freedom of Information Act. Those costs were nearly double than what was spent on security for previous EPA chiefs Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy.

The latest discovery, reported by the Washington Post, was $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel for Pruitt and his top aides during a stretch of travel in early June.

The Associated Press has records showing Pruitt has taken at least four flights on non-commercial aircraft, costing more than $58,000. EPA has said all of those flights were necessary and pre-approved by ethics lawyers.

Expense reports from March, April and May 2017, which were released following a Freedom of Information request filed by Environmental Integrity Project, found Pruitt traveled home at least 10 times, typically leaving Washington on Fridays and returning on Mondays. Pruitt was either in Oklahoma or on trips that included stops there for nearly half the days encompassed in the three-month period, costing more than $15,000. Data showed payment for some commercial flights far exceeded the typical economy fares.

In September, the EPA signed a nearly $25,000 contract for a soundproof booth for Pruitt. The contract was signed with Acoustical Solutions, a company that sells a range of sound and privacy products.

Pruitt isn’t the only Trump Administration official to come under scrutiny for travel expenses. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September after reports he spent at least $400,000 in taxpayer funds on private jets for himself and his staff.