The bipartisan effort by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to examine travel costs at the Environmental Protection Agency bore fruit on Tuesday as the agency turned over a new batch of records relating to controversial travel by Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Committee staffers told Government Executive they are still examining the documents requested last month by Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and the committee Democrats. But at least two news outlets obtained portions and reported that expenses were higher than previously disclosed.
Pruitt in his first year spent more than $105,000 on first-class flights, according to an analysis by Politico, with one flight—a December trip to Morocco to promote U.S. natural gas—costing $16,217. The total for first-class flights excludes a previously released price tag of $58,000 for Pruitt’s charter flights and a military jet for him and staff going to and from an appearance by President Trump in Cincinnati.
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Though EPA rules call for the administrator to fly coach, Pruitt and his spokesman have cited unusual personal security threats, and the flight and hotel records do not include his 24/7 security staff costs. They have also said the arrangements were approved by appropriate agency officials.
Also examining Tuesday’s document release was The Washington Post, which estimated the first-class flight and high-end hotel costs in the new records at nearly $68,000. One trip scheduled to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, last summer was canceled, but still cost taxpayers $1,927 for new arrangements, the Post noted.
Previous records disclosed to the Post and the Environmental Integrity Project under the Freedom of Information Act showed that one two-week set of trips last June by Pruitt and aides cost more than $120,000. In one trip to New York City, Pruitt spent $669 on a hotel room, they found.
“The records also underscore how often and to what lengths Pruitt traveled to speak to industry groups,” the Post wrote on Tuesday. “He addressed the Texas Oil & Gas Association in October before heading to Nebraska for media stops. First-class flights: $3,610. He headed to New Orleans to speak to the Louisiana Chemical Association. First-class flight: $2,265. In November, he flew to Chicago to address the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers annual conference, at a cost of $1,172. The next day, he headed to Charleston, S.C., for the American Chemistry Council. That brief trip cost $3,155.”
In a statement to both publications, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said: “[As] the letter explains, EPA’s Protective Service Detail identified specific ongoing threats associated with Administrator Pruitt’s travel and shifted his class based on certain security protocols that require him to be near the front of the plane.”
But EPA officials have been exploring ways for him to take more coach flights.