EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is having a bad week, and it didn’t let up on Saturday.
Pruitt, famous for his profligate taxpayer-funded first-class travel, actually flew coach when the taxpayers weren’t footing the bill, according to an Associated Press report on Saturday.
The rationale Pruitt’s defenders gave for spending thousands of dollars on first-class travel was an increased volume in security threats. When asked about the nature of these threats, EPA told Politico that someone approached Pruitt in an airport yelling “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment.” It remains unclear how flying first class would prevent people from approaching Pruitt in airports with or without expletive-laden environmental critiques. The AP report from Saturday noted that there is no record of anyone being charged with or arrested for threatening the EPA administrator.
Pruitt’s decision to fly coach when the cost of his travel is not covered with public money pokes a giant hole in the argument that he needed to fly first class for his own protection. Anyone threatening harm to the EPA administrator would not be able to distinguish between Pruitt’s personal and business travel. Taxpayers, however, still covered the cost of security detail that accompanied him on personal travel.
Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, flew coach, and was not accompanied by security during her personal trips.
The AP also reported that Pruitt spent millions on a full-time security detail with 20 members, which is three times the size of the part-time detail McCarthy used.
EPA staff who spoke up about Pruitt’s spending or management habits were demoted or reassigned, according to a report by the New York Times on Thursday.
At times, these security efforts pulled officers from investigating actual environmental crimes. Under Pruitt, regular environmental enforcement dropped 44 percent from what past administrations accomplished in the first year. And in February, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General told Congress that it could not keep investigating Pruitt’s scandals because the office had run out of money after years of budget cuts.
The embattled EPA administrator was also caught in a lie this week, heightening the threat to his job security in the Trump administration.
On Wednesday, Pruitt told Fox News that he did not know about the use of an obscure loophole that gave two of his top staffers significant pay raises, and did not approve them. “I did not. My staff did. And I found out about that yesterday and I changed it,” he told Fox News’ Ed Henry.
However, as the Washington Post reported Thursday, Pruitt did approve of giving Sarah Greenwalt, his 30-year-old senior counsel, a $56,000 raise and 26-year old scheduling director Millan Hupp a $28,000 raise. The White House had denied the raises weeks before the EPA granted them. Pruitt told Fox News that he had stopped the raises this week.
Travel and staff salaries were not even the most prominent ethics scandal orbiting the top environmental official in the Trump administration. Pruitt has faced heavy criticism for a sweetheart deal with an energy-industry-connected lobbyist, who let Pruitt stay in a luxury Capitol Hill apartment for $50 per night.
The embattled EPA chief met with President Trump on Friday, where he reportedly pleaded for his job. He has few allies in the White House, but still has support from far-right and libertarian-leaning Republicans because of his success gutting Obama-era environmental rules and carrying out a very conservative deregulatory agenda. As Reuters reported on Friday, Pruitt met with 25 times more industry representatives than environmental advocates.