House Dems want watchdog to probe Pruitt’s first-class flying

House Dems want watchdog to probe Pruitt’s first-class flying
© Greg Nash

Leading House Democrats want the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog to look into EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE’s premium-class flights on the taxpayer’s dime.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneNew Trump rule would weaken Obama methane pollution standards FCC watchdog clears chairman of 'favoritism' allegations over Sinclair deal GAO report blasts Trump's handling of ObamaCare MORE (N.J.), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, wrote to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins about the matter Wednesday.

Elkins is already investigating all of Pruitt’s official travel through 2017. But Pallone and two other top Democrats on the panel want to ensure that Elkins is probing recent revelations that Pruitt has flown first or business class repeatedly, and he has a “blanket exemption” to rules limiting premium-class flights by federal employees.

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“Administrator Pruitt’s many first-class flights around the country at taxpayers’ expense raise renewed concerns of secrecy and waste at the Trump EPA,” Pallone wrote along with Reps. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteLive coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill Women poised to take charge in Dem majority Bipartisan leaders of House panel press drug companies on opioid crisis MORE (Colo.) and Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoA bipartisan approach to protecting racehorses Overnight Energy: House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuke waste plan | EPA won't reverse danger findings for paint stripping chemical | County sues oil companies over climate House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project MORE (N.Y.).

“In light of these recent reports, we would expect your ongoing review would determine whether Administrator Pruitt’s ‘blanket waiver’ for premium-class travel is in compliance with all applicable regulations, policies and procedures,” they wrote.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Pruitt has spent thousands of dollars on premium-class flights. The EPA later said Pruitt has a “blanket exemption” to restrictions that usually preclude such flights on the taxpayers' dime.

Pruitt said the first-class flights are necessary for security reasons, and he isn’t involved in making the decisions.

“There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator, as I've flown ... of interaction that's not been the best,” he told New Hampshire TV station WMUR on Tuesday.

“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.”

Elkins’s office launched its probe into Pruitt’s travel last year at the behest of the same Democratic lawmakers, after EPA records showed that he frequently traveled to his home state of Oklahoma for official engagements and stayed there for weekends.