Pruitt defends EPA travel, installation of secure phone booth

Pruitt defends EPA travel, installation of secure phone booth
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittIs Big Oil feeling the heat? Overnight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging EPA delays advisers' review of 'secret science' rules MORE on Thursday defended his travel habits and the installation of a secure phone booth at the agency.

Pressed by Democrats on the EPA’s spending during his tenure, Pruitt said he had done nothing unusual since taking over at the agency in the spring.

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) questioned Pruitt’s frequent trips home to Oklahoma, which Cárdenas said “extremely troubled” him.

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“Your costs are especially offensive given the severe cuts you have proposed to essential and lifesaving programs” at the agency, Cárdenas said.

Pruitt replied that he has paid for the travel himself, unless he was in Oklahoma for official business, such as a meeting of state officials on regulatory issues or dealing with water quality concerns.

"There are concerns that affect Oklahoma, in [EPA] Region 6, just like in every other state,” he said. “Every dollar I spent with respect to that travel was business-related. When I traveled back to the state for personal reasons, I paid for it. That will bear out in the process.”

He also said expensive private or military travel has only happened four times during his time in office. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General is conducting an audit of Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded travel, the cost of which has totaled roughly $58,000. 

“It’s been only four instances during the entire time I have been administrator, and it’s always been based on circumstances,” he said.

Democrats also questioned the EPA’s decision to pay $25,000 to build a soundproof, secured communications booth at the agency’s headquarters.

Pruitt told Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteDemocrats request info on Google-Ascension partnership Trump health chief declines to detail ObamaCare replacement plan A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal MORE (D-Colo.) that he uses the booth for classified conversations and “also because of communications with the White House." But he wouldn’t estimate how often he uses the booth.

“There are secured conversations that need to take place that I didn’t have access to,” he said. “Cabinet-level officials need to have access to secured communications.”