Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses

Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses
© Stefani Reynolds

Lawmakers are blasting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for refusing to hold former agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits MORE accountable for $124,000 in extravagant travel expenses.

Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday criticized EPA administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Critics worry Trump ignoring plight of honeybees | EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Wheeler | Green groups team up to host presidential climate summit EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Admin. Wheeler Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule MORE for deciding against asking his predecessor to pay back thousands in what they said were excessive and unjustified travel costs during his time heading the agency.

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“Mr. Pruitt’s lavish tastes, and his use of taxpayer money to finance them, have become a punchline. But this isn’t a joke, and the Trump administration should take it seriously and take responsibility,” U.S. Senator Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-N.M.), who had called for an Office of Inspector General's (OIG) investigation into Pruitt’s questionable flying habits, wrote in a statement.

 

The EPA’s OIG released a report Thursday that said Pruitt and his staff had overspent nearly $124,000 on “excessive” first class travel over the course of ten months in 2017. The government watchdog recommended the EPA request Pruitt pay back his share of costs.

“Yet Administrator Wheeler’s EPA rushed to defend Mr. Pruitt’s indefensible conduct following the release of this report – and the report itself indicates Administrator Wheeler’s team retroactively approved Mr. Pruitt’s travel, a de facto pardon of this unacceptable abuse of taxpayer money," Udall said.

Pruitt resigned from EPA last July amidst a cloud of ethics concerns, including his use of elite travel accommodations for work trips.

The agency, in defending Pruitt, said it had received the necessary approvals for Pruitt's travel, and announced Thursday it had retroactively approved all travel for the former administrator. It concluded it was therefore improper to ask Pruitt to pay back the funds.

“EPA’s disappointing response to the OIG’s report indicating that the Agency will not pursue cost recovery from Pruitt is yet another in a long line of examples of EPA failing to uphold its mission,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ.), Energy and Commerce Committee chairman.

“Pruitt may have long since resigned in disgrace, but it is clear that the Trump EPA continues to lack integrity and transparency.”

Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards MORE (D-Dela.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip MORE (D-RI.), both members of the House Environment and Public Works committee said Wheeler’s defense of Pruitt was akin to letting him “off the hook.”

“Resigning in disgrace shouldn’t let you off the hook for unprecedented unethical behavior, and the latest report released by the OIG today confirms that,” the lawmakers wrote in a joint statement.

“Yet, in its March 2019 response to the OIG’s finding, EPA retroactively approved all of the exorbitant travel costs identified by the OIG. We urge Administrator Wheeler to immediately reverse course on this irresponsible decision, and conduct much needed internal oversight, reform policies at the agency and take every step needed to recover these costs.”