First-class travel became ‘distraction’ — Pruitt

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tried to win lawmakers’ confidence today with assurances that he’s already made changes in response to allegations of pricey travel and security expenses.

Appearing before the House Environment, Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee this afternoon, Pruitt went through a litany of stories about his time at EPA. Asked by Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) to respond to the charges, Pruitt addressed many directly, saying he wanted to make sure that process is followed at the agency.

“I commit to make those changes prospectively to ensure they are followed in the future,” Pruitt said.

The EPA chief said he’s no longer looking to fly first class and noted he was flying coach early in his time at the agency. Given the number of threats against him, it was recommended he sit in the front of the plane when he travels.

“That was something that was predicated on a security assessment,” Pruitt said on why he flew first class. “That dictated changes in my travel.”

The administrator said the media focus on his more expensive flights had become “a distraction” and it was better to return to economy class.

“I recently made changes to that because I felt like from an optics and perception standpoint, it was creating a distraction, and I thought it was best to go in another direction,” Pruitt said.

The administrator also said he has taken back pay raises given to two of his aides that attracted scrutiny. Pruitt also said he would have not have gone forward with the installation of a secure phone booth in his office if he was aware of the cost.

“The expenditure of $43,000 on secure communication should not have been made, and I would not have made the decision if I was aware of it,” he said.

As he did in this morning’s hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee, Pruitt again faced criticism from Democrats over various alleged ethical lapses at EPA (Greenwire, April 26).

“Your decisions and actions have displayed a disregard for the ethical standards to which all public officials should adhere,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the subcommittee’s ranking member.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the full committee’s ranking member, took issue with President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget plan for EPA of $6.15 billion, which would be a nearly $2 billion cut from the agency’s fiscal 2018 funds. She said in turn Pruitt had upped his own costs while looking to cut EPA’s budget.

“It is shocking to me that you’re not sparing any expense to spend on yourself,” said Lowey on his first-class travel and “a glorified phone booth.”

Several Republicans stuck to policy questions for this afternoon’s hearing. Some, like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), praised Pruitt for his work at EPA.

Cole said he had high confidence in the administrator.

“I’m sure if a mistake was made that you will correct it accordingly, which you have done over a long and distinguished career,” Cole said.