Democrats push EPA to collect $124K from Pruitt for 'excessive airfare expenses'

Democrats push EPA to collect $124K from Pruitt for 'excessive airfare expenses'
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittIs Big Oil feeling the heat? Overnight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging EPA delays advisers' review of 'secret science' rules MORE cough up almost $124,000 for excessive travel expenses from when he was EPA chief.

Four senators, in a Thursday letter to the agency, called on the EPA to modify an existing policy so that “similar abuses of agency funds are not permitted to reoccur.”

A recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report found that Pruitt incurred thousands of dollars in “excessive airfare expenses ... without sufficient justification to support security concerns requiring the use of first- and business-class travel.”

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The OIG last week said the agency should recover thousands of dollars from Pruitt spent on upgraded travel.

Democrats say the EPA’s decision not to pursue collection of the funds excuses Pruitt’s behavior contrasts with other agency heads who have paid back funds in similar situations.

“It is disappointing to learn that the EPA decided not to heed the Acting Inspector General’s findings and recommendations," the senators wrote in their letter. "These findings and recommendations were based on a meticulous analysis of the EPA’s own records. Failing to heed them essentially writes Mr. Pruitt a blank check for his lavish travel."

The letter, signed by Democratic 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 (Del.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseBudget process quick fixes: Fixing the wrong problem Democratic senators seek documents on Trump's alleged call for Barr press conference Senate committee advances budget reform plan MORE (R.I.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallBureau 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 Hillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts 'very dumb' decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook's ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill MORE (N.M.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Senators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system MORE (Mich.), asks the agency to explain its rationale for not seeking to recover the funds.

“A decision to ignore these findings puts EPA at odds with other federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs, that have required senior officials to pay the agency back for similar transgressions,” the senators wrote.

When reached for comment, the EPA reiterated its earlier position on many of the OIG report’s findings.

“The basis for the recovery of these funds rests on OIG contesting whether there was a proper delegation within EPA to approve first-class travel and whether that travel was justified,” the agency said in a statement Friday. “In evaluating the delegation EPA believes that the trips were authorized by an appropriate official, making cost recovery inappropriate.”

The agency added that it also recently provided “retroactive approval” of each trip Pruitt took as administrator.

“EPA believes it has also complied with Federal Travel Regulations making cost recovery inappropriate,” the agency wrote.

The senators asked the EPA to provide an explanation of its decision by June 7.