U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken four noncommercial flights, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
EPA documents obtained by E&E News show that Pruitt has taken charter and military flights as well as a trip on a North Dakota state-owned plane. Overall, costs of those flights came to more than $58,000.
More information about Pruitt’s trips has come to light as he and other Cabinet officials in the Trump administration have come under scrutiny for using charter and military flights, which are typically much more expensive than commercial air travel.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has been a frequent flyer on charter planes, which has led to Democrats calling on him to resign as well as disapproval from President Trump.
The EPA records — sent earlier this month in response to a letter from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asking about travel by the agency’s employees — say Pruitt and aides took the noncommercial flights due to delays by commercial airlines, adhering to tight schedules and traveling to remote locations.
Pruitt and his staff took a military flight on June 7 to Cincinnati in order to attend Trump’s speech on infrastructure. The EPA chief then took a military flight back to New York in order to make a connecting flight to Italy to attend meetings at the Vatican as well as a Group of Seven summit.
Total cost of that military flight? $36,068.50.
On July 27, Pruitt and his aides took a charter flight from Tulsa, Okla., to remote Guymon in the state, and then back to Tulsa. There were no commercial flights available and driving to Guymon would have taken five hours, according to EPA documents.
The price of that flight was $14,434.50.
Pruitt and his staff also took a charter flight on Aug. 4 from Denver to Durango in Colorado to attend a meeting with elected officials at the Gold King mine, which was "essential" for the EPA administrator to attend. The records say that Pruitt’s commercial flight was delayed for eight hours while there was only one seat available on a Colorado state-owned plane, so that wasn’t an option either.
The charter flight cost $5,719.58.
Then on Aug. 9, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) offered seats to Pruitt and his staff on a state-owned plane so the EPA chief could attend a roundtable discussion and a tour of the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center.
That flight was considered an in-kind contribution from North Dakota and cost $2,144.40.
Ethics officials at EPA cleared Pruitt’s noncommercial flights, according to other records obtained by E&E News.
Pruitt’s travel, specifically his trips back home to Oklahoma, has already grabbed the attention of agency investigators. Last month, EPA’s Office of Inspector General announced that it would audit the administrator’s travel and see whether it stuck to EPA guidelines (Greenwire, Aug. 28).
Some on Capitol Hill are pushing the agency watchdog to expand its probe.
Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter yesterday to the IG asking that Pruitt’s use of charter planes and government aircraft also come under investigation.
"Administrator Pruitt’s reported use of private aircraft is just the latest example of repeated and blatant abuse of taxpayer funds by the Trump Administration," said the lawmakers in their letter.
The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) as well as Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.).