Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief Scott Pruitt said Tuesday that it was not his decision to use taxpayer-financed first-class tickets for trips promoting the Trump administration’s climate policies.
Security personnel made the decision to use first class tickets for traveling purposes, Pruitt claimed in an interview. Death threats against the EPA head have exploded during Pruitt’s first year as administrator, and they’ve required the administration to provide a stiffer detail.
“Unfortunately, … we’ve had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe,” Pruitt said during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader.
EPA’s watchdog opened 70 threat investigations last year, including cases related to the agency’s facilities and personnel. The agency performed only 45 such such probes in 2016, according to reports last year from E&E News.
Threats against officials at the EPA spiked 50 percent during 2017, none of which resulted in injuries, but they were deemed legitimate risks to officials. Most of the threats, officials said at the time, came about shortly after President Donald Trump began rolling back his predecessor’s environmental regulations.
Trump nixed more than 50 of former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations, including the Paris climate agreement and the so-called Clean Power Plan — both of which targeted emissions from coal power plants across the country.
Pruitt’s travel expenses became a topic of conversation Monday after reports surfaced showing that taxpayers funded at least $90,000 for the former Oklahoma attorney general and his top aides to fly last June. It included first-class seats and a ride on a military jet, The Washington Post reported Monday.
“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” Pruitt said Tuesday about the report. Pruitt, who was visiting New Hampshire to visit the state’s governor, confirmed flying first-class from the Washington, D.C., area to reach the state.
“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 added.
WaPo’s report comes shortly after the EPA’s inspector general expanded a probe in January into Pruitt’s air travel after congressional Democrats argued the review needed to be broadened.
The scope of the review is now expanded to include Pruitt’s travel through the end of December 2017. EPA’s IG previously limited the scope of the review through the end of September 2017 before lawmakers asked for its expansion.
Investigators are reviewing whether he misused money during his official travel, specifically regarding one chartered flight and multiple government flights that cost more than $58,000. It would also look into whether he followed the procedures when traveling back to his home state of Oklahoma.
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