Watchdog expands probe into EPA chief’s travel

Watchdog expands probe into EPA chief’s travel
© Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog is expanding its investigation into Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Senate confirms top EPA air regulator | Feds to roll back emissions rule for big trucks | Defense bill mandates climate study EPA seeks to repeal part of Obama emissions rule for big trucks Senate confirms top air regulator at EPA MORE’s travel habits.

The EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) said Friday that it will now examine Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded travel through Sept. 30. It had previously limited the scope of its probe to Pruitt's travel to his home state of Oklahoma through July 31.

Pruitt has taken at least four charter or military flights, including one within Oklahoma, at a cost of more than $58,000. They included a flight from an event with President Trump in Cincinnati to New York City to catch a plane to Rome and flights to and from the Gold King Mine in Colorado.

ADVERTISEMENT

The EPA has argued that each of Pruitt’s noncommercial flights has been necessary and justified under the agency's guidelines.

The original inspector general probe stemmed from revelations from public records requests that Pruitt frequently uses federal funds in traveling to Oklahoma around weekends for work-related purposes, then stays in Tulsa — his home town — for the weekend before returning to Washington.

“We will review supporting documentation and conduct interviews with management and staff to determine whether the EPA followed applicable policies and practices, and complied with federal requirements,” the inspector general said in the notice.

It added a new wrinkle to the controversy surrounding spending at the EPA that Democrats and critics of the Trump administration say is wasteful, such as spending nearly $25,000 on a soundproof booth for Pruitt’s office and a 24-hour security detail for the administrator that employs 18 officers.

The inspector general said in its Friday notice that the probe will continue to examine the cost and frequency of Pruitt’s trips to Oklahoma, whether appropriate agency policies were followed and whether policies should change to prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

EPA officials have repeatedly defended Pruitt’s travel to his home state.

“Administrator Pruitt is traveling the country to hear directly from the people impacted by EPA’s regulations outside of the Washington bubble,” the agency previously said. “This is nothing more than a distraction from the administrator’s significant environmental accomplishments.”

A handful of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries have been under fire in recent days over noncommercial flights. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceDems look to gain ground in Va. House of Delegates Pruitt to address trade group at luxury resort Spring promises of partnership on health-care reform are growing cold for states MORE resigned last week over his charter flights, which cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.