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 PruittLeaked Trump transition vetting documents show numerous officials with 'red flags': Axios Chaos within the EPA exposes Americans to toxins like asbestos How EPA Administrator Wheeler completely misinterprets science 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 CarperThe '90-10 rule' in higher education is a target on veterans' backs Trump proposal nixes review of long-term climate impacts Democrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks MORE (Del.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSize of 2020 field too big even for Democratic enthusiasts, poll finds Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Trump's UN pick faces Senate grilling MORE (R.I.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership Washington braces for Trump's next move on Iran MORE (N.M.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersSenate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats Democrats make U-turn on calling border a 'manufactured crisis' Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account 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.