EPA looked into $10,000 charter plane for Pruitt mine visit on canceled Australia trip

EPA looked into $10,000 charter plane for Pruitt mine visit on canceled Australia trip
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looked into spending $10,000 on a charter plane flight for Administrator 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 to see a mine during a planned trip to Australia in August.

Pruitt's scheduler and aide Milan Hupp coordinated with Ray Shepherd, a top lobbyist for Peabody Energy, to organize a charter flight that would whisk Pruitt off to see an underground mine located 45 minutes from Sydney, according to internal EPA documents, released in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Sierra Club.

Peabody Energy is the world's largest private coal mining company. 

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In the August exchange, Shepherd suggested Pruitt take a tour of a mine as part of his itinerary. He first suggests a visit to the company's aboveground Wambo mine in New South Wales. 

"The mine is open on Sunday, but there are not any commercial flights that would get us there and back. We are looking at the availability of a charter. A drive would be undoubtedly too long," Shepherd says in the email. 

He then suggests instead a "smaller" mine located closer to the city, called the Metropolitan mine.

"If those don't work there is also a smaller, older underground mine 45 minutes from Sydney. However, there is no ground option there," he said.

Hupp replied asking if it's possible for them to tour the underground option without having to go underground and then asks for the cost of the plane.

"It would be a good idea for us to have an idea of what the cost would be for the plane or helicopter if possible. It is certainly a very generous offer but one that we would not accept complimentary," Hupp said.

Shepherd responds: "The cost of the charter would be approximately $10,000."

Pruitt has faced scrutiny over his scheduled Australia trip that he ultimately had to cancel due to Hurricane Harvey.

Reports found that Matthew Freedman, a former lobbyist and treasurer of the American Australian Council — whose members include several oil and gas companies — was a key figure in organizing Pruitt's trip.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox emphasized that Pruitt's trip to Australia had been canceled and “has not been rescheduled.”

“EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs organized and led the effort around Administrator Pruitt’s trip to Australia. This trip was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey and it has not been rescheduled," Wilcox said in a statement.

In December, Pruitt came under fire for a trip he took to Morocco where he visited with the country's energy leaders. Critics have questioned why the head of an agency tasked with environmental protection would need to meet with representatives of fossil fuel industries.

The administrator has also faced questions on his spending of taxpayer dollars, including first-class travel, spending nearly $3.5 million on round-the-clock security throughout his first year, and on ordering a $43,000 soundproof booth built in his personal office.