EPA Chief Scott Pruitt has taken four non-commercial and military flights to conduct official business for the agency, according to a report Wednesday from The Washington Post.
Agency officials confirmed that Pruitt flew from Cincinnati to New York’s JFK airport to June 7 on an Air Force jet after attending an event with President Donald Trump. Pruitt then boarded a commercial flight to Italy for an international summit – the three trips cost taxpayers $58,000.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island provided WaPo with documents used in the report. He listed details on the noncommercial flights in a Sept. 26 letter to the EPA’s inspector general.
The EPA, for its part, claims the trip was necessary because there weren’t any commercial flights available to make the trip in time for the New York flight. The cost of that flight was $36,068.50.
“When the administrator travels, he takes commercial flights,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told reporters, noting that the flight to New York was due to extenuating circumstances. “Due to logistical obstacles and the need to schedule meetings with the Vatican before the G7 Summit, we needed to take this flight.”
Pruitt also took a private jet August 4 back and forth from Denver to Durango, Colorado after the agency says his commercial flight was delayed more than five hours.
An EPA official confirmed in a trove of documents the flights to New York and Durango, as well as a July 27 flight Pruitt took on a Department of Interior jet from Tulsa, Ok., to Guymon, Ok. The Oklahoma trip cost $14,434.50.
The agency provided documents to reporters showing its Office of General Counsel approved each trip.
“While there was one potential alternative identified that had only one seat available (and the airline may have gone as far as to reserve that seat in case we determined it would meet the travel needs requirements), [chief of staff Ryan Jackson]’s understanding from the security detail was that there was not any additional seat for a Special Agent to accompany the Administrator and, therefore, that flight did not meet the travel and security needs,” Kevin Minoli, EPA’s acting general counsel, wrote in an Aug. 4 memo detailing his decision.
An EPA spokesman told reporters the Durango flight was necessary because Pruitt would not have been able to make it to his destination on time otherwise, due to a more than five-hour delay on the originally scheduled commercial flight.
“It would have been impossible to make it to the important Gold King Mine visit with a bipartisan group of elected officials waiting for the administrator,” the spokesman said.
Pruitt and two staffers also traveled in North Dakota on a state-owned plane to an event in Grand Forks, which cost the EPA $2,144.40.
“The Governor of the State of North Dakota offered seats on the state-owned plane to transport the Administrator to this event,” the agency noted in its justification for the trip. “There is no government rate established for this route.”
Other members of Trump’s administration have been criticized for similar actions.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price reportedly took five chartered jets over the course of a week earlier this month, spending roughly $400,000 on private planes since May.
Price took several privately chartered flights in September to participate in meetings and discussions with health care companies and executives, Politico reported Sept. 20, which cited airport records and internal Department of Health and Human Services documents.
The Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of government funds after he was criticized for flying to Fort Knox, Ky. in August to watch the eclipse.
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