Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent $124K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending $9T for green jobs

Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent $124K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending $9T for green jobs

PRUITT'S BACK IN THE NEWS OVER A $124,000 TRAVEL TAB: The watchdog overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is recommending the agency demand $124,000 in reimbursements from former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWhat has EPA been hiding about formaldehyde? Overnight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule MORE.

The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report released Thursday found that Pruitt and his staff incurred thousands of dollars in "excessive airfare expenses ... without sufficient justification to support security concerns requiring the use of first- and business-class travel."

The estimated total of $123,942 comes from a comparison of pricing for coach-class travel and first-class travel on flights Pruitt took as EPA chief, as well as an analysis of the travel taken by his staff and security detail.

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"The EPA's management of its travel program has been a persistent area of concern for the Office of Inspector General," Deputy Inspector General Charles Sheehan said in a statement. "If the agency's internal controls over travel aren't strengthened, abuses may continue to occur at great cost to EPA programs and taxpayers."

A refresher: Pruitt resigned from the agency in July amidst a number of ethics controversies, including his prolific and highly scrutinized use of first-class travel for EPA related work.

At the time Pruitt and his staff argued that the elite travel was necessary for his safety, but critics cried foul.

The OIG opened the audit in response to "numerous congressional requests and hotline complaints regarding Pruitt's travel."

"The OIG initiated an audit to determine the frequency, cost and extent of the Administrator's travel; whether federal regulations and EPA travel policy and procedures were followed; and whether EPA policy and procedures were sufficiently designed to prevent fraud, waste and Abuse," the report read.

How EPA is responding: The EPA responded Thursday saying it would not seek to recover the travel costs from Pruitt, pushing back 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," EPA wrote in a statement.

"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.

Read more on the Pruitt travel controversy here.

And click here for the OIG report on Pruitt's travel expenses.

 

LAWMAKERS TELL WHEELER TO MAKE PRUITT PAY UP: Lawmakers are blasting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for refusing to hold former agency head Scott Pruitt accountable for $124,000 in extravagant travel expenses.

Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday criticized EPA administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA chief arrives in Israel for water management conference House committee hits EPA with subpoenas Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule MORE for deciding against asking his predecessor to pay back thousands in what they said were excessive and unjustified travel costs during his time heading the agency.

"Mr. Pruitt's lavish tastes, and his use of taxpayer money to finance them, have become a punchline. But this isn't a joke, and the Trump administration should take it seriously and take responsibility," Sen. 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 (D-N.M.), who had called for an Office of Inspector General's (OIG) investigation into Pruitt's questionable flying habits, wrote in a statement.

The EPA's OIG released a report Thursday that said Pruitt and his staff had overspent nearly $124,000 on "excessive" first class travel over the course of ten months in 2017. The government watchdog recommended the EPA request Pruitt pay back his share of costs.

"Yet Administrator Wheeler's EPA rushed to defend Mr. Pruitt's indefensible conduct following the release of this report – and the report itself indicates Administrator Wheeler's team retroactively approved Mr. Pruitt's travel, a de facto pardon of this unacceptable abuse of taxpayer money," Udall said.

Pruitt resigned from EPA last July amidst a cloud of ethics concerns, including his use of elite travel accommodations for work trips.

The agency, in defending Pruitt, said it had received the necessary approvals for Pruitt's travel, and announced Thursday it had retroactively approved all travel for the former administrator. It concluded it was therefore improper to ask Pruitt to pay back the funds.

"EPA's disappointing response to the OIG's report indicating that the Agency will not pursue cost recovery from Pruitt is yet another in a long line of examples of EPA failing to uphold its mission," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ.), Energy and Commerce Committee chairman.

"Pruitt may have long since resigned in disgrace, but it is clear that the Trump EPA continues to lack integrity and transparency."

More on the lawmaker response here.

 

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DEMS WANT INVESTIGATION INTO LOBBYIST-TURNED-EPA STAFFER: Three Senate Democrats are requesting an investigation into a former lobbyist, now an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee, who met with her former boss as well as members of the trade group she once worked for.

Elizabeth "Tate" Bennett, who works in the external engagement office for EPA, met with both her former employer, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and utilities that are members of the group that were seeking to change EPA policies.

Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight 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 Liz Cheney applauds Trump for pulling out of Paris climate agreement MORE (D-Del.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocratic senators seek documents on Trump's alleged call for Barr press conference Senate committee advances budget reform plan Bipartisan Enzi-Whitehouse budget bill a very bad fix for deficits MORE (D-R.I.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocrats seize on report of FedEx's Jeff Merkley tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan Overnight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan MORE (D-Ore.) requested the EPA's Office of Inspector General investigate, arguing those meetings likely violate ethics rules.

Bennet was on the job for more than seven months before signing a recusal from dealing with NRECA, where she was a lobbyist, but EPA said it was determined on Day One she should not be in contact with her former employer.

"She was recused or still is recused from working with NRECA, her former employer, not the members. She inquired about just that during her initial ethics briefing upon joining the agency," said Michael Abboud, an EPA spokesman.

Democrats argue Bennet's correspondence and actions may violate ethics rules that encourage government employees to step away from issues where their impartiality may be questioned.

The issue stems from two Missouri-based power plants run by Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI), a member of NRECA. Those facilities were hit with a notice of violation from EPA in 2011 for failing to get required permits and for failing to install the best pollution controls.

According to a timeline constructed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, of which the three senators are members, Bennet was on the job for less than a month when she began communicating with NRECA members, setting up a visit to the two power plants by former EPA Sec. Scott Pruitt in April of 2017.

Read more on the story here.

 

INSLEE WOULD INVEST $9 TRILLION FOR GREEN JOBS: Democratic presidential hopeful Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeO'Rourke ends presidential bid Sunrise Movement organizer: Sanders, Warren boast strongest climate change plans Overnight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate MORE is releasing a second major climate plan that calls for investing $9 trillion to jumpstart a green economy.

The Washington governor's plan, unveiled Thursday, aims to create 8 million jobs over 10 years with a public investment of $3 trillion while pushing to leverage $6 trillion in private investments.

Inslee called his Evergreen Economy Plan a "comprehensive vision to build a clean energy economy."

The proposal is the second part of Inslee's climate agenda. His first plan, released in early May, outlined goals of transitioning the U.S. electric grid, vehicles and buildings to 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

While still towards the bottom of the crowded primary field in polls, Inslee is the only Democrat running primarily on platform targeting climate change – an issue that has energized Democratic voters nationally.

More on Inslee's plan here.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Peru's military tries to curb illegal gold mining in Amazon, the Associated Press reports.

New York rejects Keystone-like pipeline in battle with EPA, The New York Times reports.

To control forest fires, western states light more of their own, Stateline reports.

New Hampshire Senate kills straw bill and replaces plastic bag bill, WAMC reports.

Texas lawmakers may stiffen penalties for pipeline damage, the Associated Press reports.

 

ICYMI:

Stories from Thursday...

-Inslee: Biden needs to 'step up his game' on climate change

-House Dems up funding for science agencies, ignoring proposed Trump cuts

-Inslee climate plan calls for investing $9 trillion in green jobs

-EPA inspector general tells agency to ask Pruitt for $124,000 in first class travel reimbursements

-READ: EPA watchdog report on Pruitt's travel expenses

-Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses

-Dems request investigation of lobbyist-turned-EPA employee who met with former boss