EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Tuesday that security-related decisions made by others prompted him to frequently fly first class or take military flights at taxpayer expense.
Pruitt and his top aides spent more than $90,000 on travel in just the first few weeks of June 2017, according to a report Sunday by the Washington Post.
Pruitt on Tuesday again flew first class to New Hampshire for a private meeting with Gov. Chris Sununu and visits to a paper products company and a federal Superfund site.
“I’m not involved in any of those decisions,” Pruitt said during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Those are all made by the [security] detail, the security assessment in addition to the chief of staff.”
“Unfortunately, we've had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe,” Pruitt added. “We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” he said. “We've reached the point where there's not much civility in the marketplace and it's created some issues, and the [security] detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.”
The $90,000 the EPA administrator spent on travel in June includes a first-class flight Pruitt took from Washington to New York City, which cost him $1,641.43. Two aides flew on coach on that flight, the Washington Post reported.
The group stayed in a high-end hotel near Times Square and flew back to Washington a day later.
On June 7, Pruitt spent more than $36,000 for a military jet from Cincinnati to New York, where they caught a flight to Rome.
Pruitt's roundtrip flight from New York to Rome cost upwards of $7,000 even though Freedom of Information Act records show other EPA officials who traveled with him paid several times less.
The $90,000 figure for travel in early June does not include security detail costs, and the story included other pricey flights Pruitt took in May and July.
Pruitt is expected to travel to Israel, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and possibly Canada in 2018.
The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s travel habits. EPA rarely publishes the secretary's travel schedule in advance, which the agency has also blamed on “security concerns.”
That includes his trip Tuesday to New Hampshire, setting off criticism from the state Democratic Party.
"Pretty pathetic when a New Hampshire governor and U.S. Cabinet secretary are afraid of the citizens of New Hampshire," state Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley posted on Twitter. "We can have presidents in our living rooms but these two think they are so dang important they have to meet in secret?"
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said all of Pruitt’s travel expenses have been approved by federal ethics officials.