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Pruitt says he's ‘dumbfounded’ by ‘media narratives’ on travel costs

Pruitt says he's ‘dumbfounded’ by ‘media narratives’ on travel costs
© Greg Nash

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Democratic lawmaker calls for DOJ investigation of entire Trump administration MORE slammed the media on Thursday for recent reporting on the costs of his foreign travel, accusing journalists of a "double standard."

Pruitt defended the June 2017 trip to Italy that has been at the center of recent controversy, arguing that his predecessors under the Obama administration spent more on foreign travel.

Records made public earlier this week showed that the cost of the Italy trip was more than $84,000 — or $120,000 including a military flight he took to catch the plane to Rome.

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“These are very important meetings that take place. It’s an obligation that I have to participate,” Pruitt told conservative talk show host Mark Reardon on KMOX.

"And so I’m a little bit dumbfounded by the kind of media narratives that these things are somehow not the focus," he said.

While in Italy, Pruitt attended a multi-day Group of 7 environmental ministers’ meeting and also met with Vatican City officials. The meeting came days after President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE announced he would exit the Paris climate change agreement.

“I don’t know if folks really realize this before or not, but the Vatican is like a country. It has a secretary of State. It has a head of environment,” Pruitt said.

“This was a four-day exercise on focused efforts on the decisions that the United States had made on an international agreement that had significant impacts on this country,” he said.

Pruitt has also been under fire for almost exclusively flying first class. Federal workers are usually restricted to coach class, but Pruitt said EPA security officials have preferred that he fly first class for security reasons.

In the Thursday interview, Pruitt claimed that he only spent $100,000 on foreign trips in his first year, and his predecessors under former President Obama, Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyEPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump replaces head of energy regulatory commission | Biden climate agenda would slam into Senate GOP roadblocks | Emails show Park Police reliance on pepper balls, outside police forces during Lafayette protests MORE and Lisa Jackson, spent more.

“$100,000 on the trips that we’re talking about, and the previous administration spent 10 times that much and there’ll be any discussion about it,” he told Reardon after the host accused the media of a “double standard.”

“I think your reference to a double-standard is pretty well said,” the EPA administrator said.

“The Obama EPA heads, before I arrived, spent nearly $1 million on foreign trips. I think our cost last year was a little over $100,000,” Pruitt repeated later in the day to syndicated conservative talk host Lars Larson.

The EPA said Pruitt’s December trip to Morocco cost around $40,000. That amounts to about $124,000 for Pruitt’s first year, excluding the $36,000 military flight for the June trip to Italy.

The main focus of the Morocco trip was to promote United States liquefied natural gas exports, a responsibility that Democratic lawmakers say is not within the EPA’s purview.

Pruitt’s staff released data earlier in the week alleging that McCarthy and Jackson took multiple, five-figure trips to foreign countries.

McCarthy took 10 foreign trips at an average cost of about $63,000 each, while Jackon’s four trips from 2011 to 2013 averaged about $83,000, both less than the $120,000 Italy trip. Jackson was in office from 2009 to 2013, but the EPA only has records stretching back to 2011.

Jackson’s costliest trip was a $155,764 jaunt to China, which included visits to three major cities there.

Liz Purchia, who was an EPA spokeswoman during McCarthy’s tenure, questioned the accounting by Pruitt’s staff of McCarthy’s and Jackson’s trips, saying it is impossible to validate and security detail costs were only included sometimes.

“And it's important to point out why he's traveling versus the purpose of the trips that Jackson and McCarthy took. He and his detail have been flying first class to promote an agenda that isn't part of EPA's mission, like his Morocco trip,” she said.

Pruitt is also under scrutiny for the $43,000 in agency money he allegedly spent on a "privacy booth" in his office suite.

— Miranda Green contributed to this story.