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: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers 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: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Democratic senator gives EPA a D-minus on implementing PFAS action plan Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case MORE (Del.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats pan Trump's budget proposal as 'dead on arrival' Trump unveils .8 trillion budget that backtracks on deal with Congress End of impeachment trial to leave deep scars in Senate MORE (R.I.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Experts criticize changes to EPA lead, copper rule | House panel looks into plan to limit powers of EPA science advisers | Senate bill aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 Overnight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics Bill targets single-use plastics in push to make manufacturers responsible MORE (N.M.) and Gary PetersGary Charles PetersState officials press Congress for more resources to fight cyberattacks Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to combat cyberattacks on state and local governments Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle 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.