New travel costs revealed for EPA head amid ongoing scrutiny
WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt spent more than $120,000 in public funds last summer for a trip to Italy that included a meeting of G-7 ministers and a private tour of the Vatican.
The known cost of Pruitt’s previously reported trip grew this week after the agency disclosed a heavily censored document showing expenses for Pruitt’s security detail cost more than $30,500. That’s on top of nearly $90,000 spent for food, hotels, commercial airfare and a military jet used by Pruitt and nine EPA staff.
Last June, Pruitt flew to Bologna, Italy, for a meeting of environmental ministers from the world’s top seven economies. Pruitt attended only the first few hours of the summit before leaving early to jet back to Washington for a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
The trip came a week after the Trump administration announced its plans to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He also went to Rome for a briefing at the U.S. Embassy, a meeting with business leaders and private tours of the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.
The latest records were released following a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy group.
Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to require a full-time security detail that guards him day and night, the total cost of which has not been disclosed. He has also taken other security precautions, including the addition of a $43,000 soundproof “privacy booth” inside his office to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls and spending $3,000 to have his office swept for hidden listening devices.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Tuesday the security precautions taken during the Italy trip were no different than that for prior EPA chiefs during international travel.
Pruitt has defended his frequent travel, the full cost of which has not yet been publicly released. That includes flying in first-class seats, which Pruitt described as a security precaution taken after unpleasant interactions with other passengers in coach.
For the Italy trip, Pruitt’s commercial airfare alone cost more than $7,000 — four times what was spent for other EPA staffers on the trip. Another $36,000 was spent for a flight on a U.S. military jet for Pruitt and two aides from Ohio to New York, which the agency said was necessary because no commercial flights were available for them to make it to JFK airport in time to catch their connecting flight.
EPA’s Office of Inspector General is investigating Pruitt’s 2017 travel costs.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy last month also issued a letter demanding copies of Pruitt’s travel full records, due by March 6.
Two weeks after the deadline, Wilcox would not answer Tuesday when asked when those records would be turned over to the oversight committee.
“We are working with Chairman Gowdy to accommodate his request,” he said.
Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck