EPA head expenses nearly $200,000 in travel over 6 months
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER
Feb. 16, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and staffers billed taxpayers nearly $200,000 for his trips over six months last year, according to travel vouchers obtained by an environmental organization.
Pruitt is one of several Trump administration officials who have drawn attention over travel costs, including Pruitt's frequent travel at first-class rates. Pruitt earlier this week said a "toxic environment politically" required first-class travel and protection from a 24-hour security detail.
The Environmental Integrity Project environmental group obtained the travel vouchers, which cover trips by Pruitt and 14 staffers from March to August, through open-records requests. Previous vouchers acquired by the group covered the EPA chief's travel over a shorter period.
Pruitt is a former Oklahoma attorney general and longtime Tulsa-area resident. Most of at least 10 expensed trips involving stops in his home state of Oklahoma were into the Tulsa airport, including for events in or closer to Oklahoma City, the state's capital and site of the biggest state airport.
Vouchers released for some of the Oklahoma trips cited the reason for travel only as "meetings in state" or as tours of companies in the Tulsa area.
Eric Schaeffer, founder of the group that obtained the records, called the justifications for some of the trips back home "a little squirrelly."
"You can't do what you can do as maybe a corporate lawyer," as head of the EPA, Schaeffer said. "You're putting one meeting on the calendar so it's official business."
Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said he had no immediate comment on the six months of travel costs. A handful of the travel reports for Oklahoma trips said routing trips to multiple destinations through Tulsa was as affordable as a more direct route, or said Pruitt or another party had picked up some or all of the costs.
The costs included $138,969 overall for trips involving commercial airfare from March to August, including $93,308 for flights, according to the environmental group's records.
Another $56,000 went to charter flights. Among those was a $14,434 charter to carry Pruitt and staffers from Tulsa, in far eastern Oklahoma, to Oklahoma's western panhandle to meet with farmers.
That trip and some others have been previously reported by news media. The EPA has said all the charter flights were necessary and previously approved by ethics lawyers
Most of the reported expenses did not appear to include travel costs of the unknown number of security guards traveling with Pruitt.