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 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 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 CarperOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Trump administration rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards MORE (Del.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight 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 MORE (R.I.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus Democrats press FEC pick to recuse himself from Trump matters MORE (N.M.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Poll: Biden has small lead over Trump in Michigan Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on 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.