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: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses EPA didn't conduct required analyses of truck engine rule: internal watchdog Is Big Oil feeling the heat? MORE accountable for $124,000 in extravagant travel expenses.

Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday criticized EPA administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA to resume contract negotiations with employee union Overnight Energy: Critics call EPA air guidance 'an industry dream' | New Energy secretary says Trump wants to boost coal | EPA looks to speed approval of disputed industry pollution permits Latest EPA guidance weakens air protections in favor of industry, critics say 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 UdallSenate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters Bureau of Land Management staff face relocation or resignation as agency moves west Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows 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 CarperLobbying World Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder MORE (D-Dela.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Pelosi warns of 'existential' climate threat, vows bold action Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members 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.”