The deeply unpopular Scott Pruitt, the Trump-appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been silent for months over his insistence on flying first-class, a habit for which taxpayers always foot the bill. TIME reports that on Tuesday, Pruitt spoke about the situation for the first time in New Hampshire (where he had taken a first-class flight to meet with the state’s Republican governor and tour a toxic waste site.) His excuse? Pruitt had some “incidents” with other passengers on flights in the beginning of his term and therefore first-class is for his own “protection.”
“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.” Pruitt also confirmed to the newspaper that he had flown first-class from Washington to Boston.
“There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator, as I’ve flown and spent time, of interaction that’s not been the best,” Pruitt told WMUR TV in Manchester, New Hampshire, in a second interview. “And, so, ingress and egress off the plane...that’s all decisions all made by our (security) detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don’t make any of those decisions. They place me on the plane where they think is best from a safety perspective.”
(And they call liberals the snowflakes. Alright.)
Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to require a 24-hour security detail. He has security with him at all times, including when he is at the EPA offices in Washington. On top of that, Pruitt has built a $25,000 “privacy booth” to thwart eavesdropping on his phone calls. He has also spent $3,000 making sure his office is free of any hidden listening devices.
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported on the high cost of Pruitt’s travel expenses. There was a period in early June of 2017 in which Pruitt accumulated $90,000 in travel costs (all of which is funded by taxpayer money.) Some of those June flights include a first-class flight from Washington to New York City—approximately a 40-minute flight—that cost $1,641.23. His aides flew in coach; Pruitt’s ticket cost six times the price of the coach seats. The records do not show whether Pruitt’s security detail accompanied him in first class.
The Post also reported that he took that pricey flight into New York City in order to make two television appearances supporting Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. He returned to Washington the next day, but just days later embarked on an Air Force One to Cincinnati, then took a military jet to New York (which cost $36,068.50) and then flew to Rome. The return flight to Rome cost just over $7,000.
In addition, Pruitt has taken at least four flights on non-commercial aircraft, which have cost more than $58,000. The EPA has claimed that all of those flights were “necessary and pre-approved by ethics lawyers,” TIME notes. Pruitt’s travels have also included weekend stops in his home state of Oklahoma.
The EPA’s internal watchdog, headed by Inspector General Arthur Elkins, is currently reviewing Pruitt’s frequent government-funded travel. Elkins plans to have the report released by the summer. At the same time, the White House is planning to slash $3.7 million, or 9 percent, of funding for the EPA internal watchdog.
“Without sufficient resources, we would not be able to take on many discretionary audits and investigations that the OIG believes yield considerable value and return on investment,” Elkins’s spokesperson, Jennifer Kaplan, said.