Energy & Environment

Energy Dept: Perry flew charter plane on White House-requested trip

Energy Secretary Rick Perry flew a charter plane last week to tour a coal mine after the White House requested he take the trip, the Department of Energy (DOE) said late Friday.

The Sept. 28 trip to the Jeddo Coal Co. near Hazleton, Pa., was the only time Perry has used a charter flight since becoming Energy secretary in March, DOE documents show.

The paperwork showing approval for the trip by DOE attorneys says that he visited the coal mine "at the request of the White House," but does not give further details about the request.

Perry then used the same aircraft to fly to Ohio and visit the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a DOE facility that's being decommissioned.

The plane cost taxpayers $11,000 for the entire trip, including a leg from Washington's Dulles International Airport to Hazleton, DOE said.

Perry visited the Pennsylvania mine, which produces anthracite coal and rare earth minerals, along with Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.). The Energy chief used the visit to promote the Trump administration's pro-coal agenda.

"It's time for coal in this country to be revived," Perry declared in a speech at the event.

Barletta is running for the Senate in next year's race, hoping to unseat Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Reuters reported on the charter flight Thursday, noting that it came the day before Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned due to his use of charter flights worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The DOE did not confirm any details at the time.

Eric Fygi, the DOE's deputy general counsel, wrote in a memo approving the flights two days earlier that other options, including scheduled commercial flights, "will not meet the secretary's schedule requirements."

Perry had previously planned on using a Defense Department C-37, a corporate-style jet with a larger capacity, but switched to a Cessna Citation II, which seats 10.

DOE shared the details about that flight and three flights Perry took on government-owned planes with the House Oversight Committee on Friday to fulfill a request the panel sent last month to all Cabinet agencies.

The flights cost $56,246, with documents offering explanations and approvals for each trip.

"The Department of Energy strictly follows both government-wide and internal DOE travel regulations and policy," DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement.

"The secretary travels almost exclusively on commercial aircraft. In the rare instances where government-owned or chartered aircraft have been used, trips were pre-approved by an ethics officer within the office of general counsel."

Perry prefers to fly Southwest and United airlines, the agency said.

Perry's three other flights were all on federal government aircraft, for which the DOE reimbursed the agencies. Each trip was to a DOE event or facility.

In all cases, Fygi wrote the same reasoning for non-commercial flights: "I have determined that other modes of transportation, including scheduled airline flights, will not meet the secretary's schedule requirements."

In May, he used a Defense Department C-21 corporate-style jet to visit DOE facilities in Idaho and New Mexico, at a cost of $7,000.

Later in May, he used a Federal Aviation Administration Gulfstream IV jet to an event at a DOE building in Kansas, costing $35,000.

And in August, he flew on a Bonneville Power Administration-owned Beechcraft Super King Air 350 turboprop plane from Seattle to Richland, Wash., to tour the DOE's Hanford Site.

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