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: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' Court sides with scientists on EPA policy barring grantees from serving on agency boards Overnight Energy: Senate energy bill stalled amid amendment fight | Coronavirus, oil prices drive market meltdown | Green groups say Dem climate plan doesn't go far enough MORE accountable for $124,000 in extravagant travel expenses.

Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday criticized EPA administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus | Trump oil purchase in jeopardy | Analysis finds gasoline demand could fall 50 percent EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus EPA watchdog to review pollution plans after threat to withhold California highway funding 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.

“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 UdallDemocrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus Democrats press FEC pick to recuse himself from Trump matters Overnight Energy: Watchdog blasts planning behind BLM relocation | Progress on Senate energy bill | Dems eye two measures for inclusion ahead of vote 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 CarperDemocrat calls on EPA to withdraw 'secret science' rule Blame game heats up as Senate motion fails Democratic senators, attorneys general slam proposal to roll back protections for birds MORE (D-Dela.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights | Court sides with tribes in Dakota Access Pipeline case | Trump officials walk away from ethanol court fight Coronavirus package punts on environmental fights Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' 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.”