An Obama-era career EPA official confirmed Thursday that Scott Pruitt needed a waiver for first-class travel after passengers consistently confronted the agency chief over his climate policies.
“He was approached in the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him and so forth,” Henry Barnet, director of the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico. Pruitt’s use of expensive business flights for international flights have created media speculation.
“The team leader felt that he was being placed in a situation where he was unsafe on the flight,” said Barnet, a longtime law enforcement official who joined the EPA during former President Barack Obama’s first term. He recounted one incident last year in Atlanta, when a passenger approached Pruitt and screamed: “‘Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment.”
His remarks come nearly a week after The Washington Post and CBS News tag-teamed on reports detailing how Pruitt racked up nearly $90,000 in flight expenses. CBS reported Tuesday that Pruitt traveled to Italy in June for meetings at the Vatican and to attend a summit with international energy ministers. The round-trip business-class flight cost at least $7,000, according to the report.
The entire trip — both ways — cost more than $43,000 dollars, according to travel vouchers environmental activist group Environmental Integrity Project obtained. Government policy allows officials access for first class travel on 14-hour international flights.
WaPo published a similar report earlier this month, which highlighted, or rehashed, Pruitt’s flight records dating back to Trump’s first year in office. The headline on the outlet proclaimed: “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.”
The CBS report did not mention the record number of death threats being leveled against the agency — WaPo didn’t do much better. It reported what amounts to a parenthetical reference to the increased danger associated with being a member of the Trump administration.
Threats against officials at the agency and Pruitt have spiked 50 percent during 2017, according to an NBC report in 2017. EPA’s Office of Inspector General launched more than 70 investigations into threats against Pruitt and others at the agency, the Oct. 6 report noted. None of the threats resulted in injuries, but they were deemed legitimate risks to officials.
EPA calculated that placing Pruitt in first-class would help isolate Pruitt from security threats, Barnet said in his interview Thursday. This, despite WaPo theorizing that the agency chief wanted to sit in the front section of the plane because it might be safer in the event of crash.
“We felt that based on the recommendation from the team leader, the special agent in charge, that it would be better suited to have him in business or first class, away from close proximity from those individuals who were approaching him and being extremely rude, using profanities and potential for altercations and so forth,” Barnet said.
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