UPDATE 2 — 9/28, 2:25 p.m. EDT: The Washington Post reported Thursday Scott Pruitt’s non-commercial and military flights earlier in 2017 cost taxpayers over $58,000, citing congressional oversight committee records.
According to EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman, Pruitt is now taking only less expensive commercial flights when he travels.
UPDATE — 8/29, 3:53 p.m. EDT: The EPA’s inspector general announced Monday that it will investigate agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s numerous flights between his home state of Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., which were paid for with taxpayer funds last spring.
Specifically, the EPA’s oversight office will seek to determine the “frequency, cost and extent” of Pruitt’s trips to the Sooner State, and “whether EPA policies and procedures are sufficiently designed to prevent fraud, waste and abuse with the Administrator’s travel”.
According to agency records of Pruitt’s travels, the former Oklahoma attorney general spent nearly half of his time during the months of March, April and May in his home state — often staying in Tulsa on weekends after meeting mainly with energy sector lobbyists in the Midwest.
In July, the New York Times and Associated Press reported that Scott Pruitt, current head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has misused agency funds to travel between Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., as early as March until at least May.
The revelation comes after a Freedom of Information Act requesting Pruitt’s expense records was granted by EPA at the behest of non-profit watchdog, Environmental Integrity Project.
Although Mr. Pruitt claims that he traveled to Oklahoma solely for EPA business – excepting one trip – the nature of other engagements while in Oklahoma remain elusive. Vouchers for Mr. Pruitt cite “informational meetings” as the cause of travel, even though nothing had been scheduled on the administrator’s calendar.
Mr. Pruitt appears to have stayed in Oklahoma during each trip three to five days long, despite attending just one meeting relevant to EPA affairs each trip. In a memo, Pruitt promised that he would “not participate in any active cases in which Oklahoma is a party, petitioner or intervener.”
Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, was nominated as EPA administrator by President Trump shortly after assuming the Oval Office. Trump’s choice of Pruitt was held questionable by many, given that Pruitt’s record in Oklahoma of opposing EPA regulations.
The Obama administration saw the implementation of a series of regulations that designate areas impacted by excessive levels of ground-level smog.
One proposal, the Clean Power Plan, which regulates U.S. carbon emissions on a state-by-state basis, was particularly opposed by the new EPA administrator. While Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt brought suit no less than four times and even litigated to block the plan before it was finalized.
Pruitt’s claim at the time was that the Clean Power Plan was “illegal”.
Oklahoma is an energy intensive state, with about 20 percent of jobs linked to the oil and natural gas industries. Many conservatives claim jobs are lost to environmental regulation, despite studies that show, on a much broader spectrum, jobs may be reduced in some sectors but will be created in others.
“Day by day, job-killing regulation by job-killing regulation, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, this president [Obama] is crushing the dream,” Mitt Romney said in 2011.
Mr. Pruitt has consistently acted in opposition of regulation, as per the Republican agenda. Not only did Pruitt come to the rescue of Exxon Mobil when the attorneys general of other states investigated whether the company failed to release “material information” on climate change, but he has clearly stated that he does not believe carbon dioxide to be a leading factor in climate change.
After elected Oklahoma attorney general in 2010, Pruitt established a “Federalism Unit” to “more effectively combat unwarranted regulation and systematic overreach by federal agencies, boards and offices,” according to his online biography.
The support of Pruitt and his active opposition of the Obama administration’s EPA has been integral to Oklahoma’s businesses in saving face, given barriers to production and profit created and enforced by environmental organizations such as the EPA.
Their gratitude for Mr. Pruitt’s loyalty was made transparent in the wake of at least $40,000 in contributions coming from nearly 30 poultry companies who faced scrutiny regarding the water pollution they produced.
[New York Times] [AP] [Rolling Stone] [Washington Post] [CNBC] [Reuters]