EPA Watchdog Launches Probe of Administrator’s Travel

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks in Washington in February. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks in Washington in February. Susan Walsh/AP

In the six months he has been on the job, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has made frequent trips to his home state of Oklahoma. On Monday, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins confirmed that his office has launched an investigation of Pruitt’s travel spending, and also referred the case to agency ethics officials.

Elkins sent a letter responding to separate written requests from Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. (on July 28), and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. (on Aug. 4), who pointed to EPA documents released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws.

The documents showed that Pruitt—who meets regularly with oil and gas industry representatives—“spent almost half of his days this spring in Oklahoma or on trips that included stops in his home state,” the nonprofit said in a Monday release. “The airfare for these trips cost taxpayers more than $12,000, with much of that covering travel to and from the administrator’s home state.”

Agency records show Pruitt traveled a total of 48 out of 92 days in March, April and May. Of those days, 43 were spent in Oklahoma or heading to or from the state. Pruitt’s travel pace was double that of his Obama administration predecessor, Gina McCarthy, The New York Times reported. McCarthy paid for her own flights.

Pruitt also has diverged from his predecessors in requesting 24-hour security protection, in light of his controversial visibility. (When Pruitt served as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he frequently sued the federal agency he now heads.) An examination by E&E News found Pruitt’s security costs were double that of his predecessors, totaling $833,000 during his first three months in office.

Pruitt’s frequent absences have reportedly alienated some EPA employees. One told Rolling Stone that the administrator "spends plenty of time traveling around the country and meeting with industry folks, but he's completely uninterested in building any relationship or trust with the people who actually work here.”

Carper noted that EPA, despite having turned over the Pruitt travel documents under the Environmental Integrity Project’s FOIA request, has yet to turn them over to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Carper requested the documents in March.

EPA did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

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