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 PruittEPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses MORE’s premium-class flights on the taxpayer’s dime.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch 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 DeGetteOvernight Energy: Critics question data behind new Trump water rule | Groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental rollback | EPA under scrutiny over backlog of toxic waste cleanups Democrats demand plan as EPA hits largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years Overnight Energy: Trump issues rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections | Pelosi slams new rule as 'an outrageous assault' | Trump water policy exposes sharp divides MORE (Colo.) and Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Critics question data behind new Trump water rule | Groups seek more time to comment on Trump environmental rollback | EPA under scrutiny over backlog of toxic waste cleanups Democrats demand plan as EPA hits largest backlog of toxic waste cleanups in 15 years Overnight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans 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.