Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt spent nearly half of his first few months as administrator using taxpayer funds to travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma, according to EPA documents obtained by a nonprofit group.
The Environmental Integrity Project, a group that consists of former EPA employees, published a report on Monday based on Pruitt’s calendar and travel vouchers from March through May. The vouchers and schedule reveal that Pruitt spent 43 days in a 92-day stretch either in Oklahoma, or traveling to and from the state. All of those trips used taxpayer funds to cover at least one leg of travel.
Pruitt has been notoriously opaque about his daily activities since becoming EPA administrator in February, refusing to publicly release his schedule in a sharp break with past administrations.
Gina McCarthy, who served as EPA administrator from 2013 to 2017 under President Barack Obama, also took frequent trips home to Massachusetts while at the EPA, but paid for those trips herself, according to the New York Times.
Pruitt, by contrast, has spent roughly $12,000 in taxpayer dollars on travel to and from Oklahoma.
David Hayes, who served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior from 2009 to 2013, suggested on Twitter that Pruitt’s travel might violate rules stipulating when government employees can use taxpayer funds for travel, though the report itself did not allege any violations.
This isn't right. Rules are clear. When "duty station" is DC, gov't can't subsidize travel back home. https://t.co/f427YZcdU5
— David J. Hayes (@djhayes01) July 24, 2017
Before being named to the top spot at EPA, Pruitt served as Oklahoma’s attorney general, and led several lawsuits aimed at challenging and rolling back Obama-era EPA regulations, like the Clean Power Plan.
As attorney general, Pruitt had an extremely close relationship with industry, especially the state’s oil and gas industry, which represents hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. Pruitt was so close to the oil and gas industry that, at times, he used his capacity as attorney general to send letters drafted by fossil fuel companies under the auspice of official business. A 2014 investigation by the New York Times, for instance, found that Pruitt had sent a letter to the EPA, on official letterhead, that had been written by the chief of lobbying for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest energy companies.
Pruitt’s schedule and travel vouchers often list just one meeting or event in Oklahoma, despite the fact that his average stay is between three to five days. Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former director of civil enforcement at EPA, suggested that Pruitt’s frequent trips back to Oklahoma might be a sign that he intends to run for statewide office after his tenure at the agency.
“These travel records show that Administrator Pruitt is more focused on cultivating his relationships with industry and conservative political organizations in his home state of Oklahoma than he is on protecting the environment and the public health for the rest of America,” Schaeffer said in a press statement following the report’s release.
Under Pruitt’s leadership, the EPA has touted several initiatives aimed at saving taxpayer money, such as ending a program that subsidized gym memberships for EPA employees.
“We have ended taxpayer-funded fitness centers at EPA; a program that was costing American taxpayers $900,000 per year,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told E&E News. “Disinvestment in using federal funds for EPA fitness centers will allow the agency to invest this money in core activities to protect the environment,” Wilcox said in a statement.
Pruitt has also doubled what previous EPA administrators have spent on security: according to documents obtained by E&E News, the EPA spent $617,566.71 on Pruitt’s security detail and $215,168.69 in travel costs for his detail between the beginning of February and late May.
Meanwhile, the EPA is the target of the Trump administration’s deepest proposed budget cuts, with the president’s 2018 budget slashing EPA spending by almost a third. The budget would completely zero out programs meant to protect public health — like Superfund cleanup and lead pollution monitoring.