EPA watchdog reviewing agency chief's trips home to Oklahoma
Posted August 28
WASHINGTON — The inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency opened an inquiry on Monday into Administrator Scott Pruitt's frequent taxpayer-funded travel to his home in Oklahoma.
The office said in a letter, a copy of which was sent to Pruitt, that it would audit his travel records through the end of July. The letter says the inquiry will seek to determine the extent and cost of Pruitt's trips, as well as his security team and aides who traveled with him. The audit will also examine whether EPA's travel policies and procedures were violated.
The Associated Press and other media outlets reported in July that Pruitt's expense reports from his first three months in office showed he traveled to Oklahoma at least 10 times, typically leaving Washington on Fridays and returning Mondays. Pruitt was either in Oklahoma or on trips that included stops there for nearly half the days encompassed in the three-month period, costing more than $15,000.
EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said the trips were warranted.
"Administrator Pruitt is traveling the country to hear directly from the people impacted by EPA's regulations outside of the Washington bubble," Graham said. "This is nothing more than a distraction from the administrator's significant environmental accomplishments."
Pruitt, a Republican, served as Oklahoma's attorney general prior to his appointment by President Donald Trump to lead EPA and he owns a home in Tulsa.
AP reported earlier this year that while Pruitt was in his state job, he was in frequent contact with political donors, corporate executives and industry groups opposed to new environmental regulations enacted under the Obama administration.
He has continued that practice since coming to EPA, including traveling to accept an award from the Oklahoma Well Strippers Association, make a keynote address to a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council and deliver a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers.
EPA records also indicate Pruitt attended "informational meetings" during the trips. Though a trip to Oklahoma might last three or five days, it was not unusual for only one such meeting to be listed during Pruitt's time away from Washington.
American Oversight, a legal advocacy group, has called for a formal investigation into whether Pruitt's trips to Oklahoma were made to advance Pruitt's political career. Though the EPA administrator has made no public statements indicating he plans to once again seek elected office, political observers in Oklahoma expect he may run forU.S. Senate in 2020.
"While Pruitt has every right to return to Oklahoma, he can't expect American taxpayers to foot the bill for politically motivated or personal travel," said Melanie Sloan, a senior advisor at American Oversight. "At a time in which Administrator Pruitt is slashing EPA offices dedicated to water and air safety, it's heartening that the Inspector General is taking steps to protect taxpayer money and curb Pruitt's spendthrift travel."
Follow Associated Press environmental writer Michael Biesecker at www.Twitter.com/mbieseck