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 PruittEPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections 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 CarperInstead of raising the gas tax, stop wasting money on frivolous projects To stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists MORE (Del.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw Senate GOP pledges to oppose any efforts to 'pack' Supreme Court MORE (R.I.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback MORE (N.M.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersRepublicans to hand out 'baseball cards' mocking Gary Peters in Michigan Election security funds passed by Senate seen as welcome first step Democrats introduce bill to block taxpayer-funded spending at Trump properties 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.