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Under fire for travel expenses, Pruitt cancels trip to Israel

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the Senate Environment Committee on Jan. 30. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has canceled a nearly week-long trip to Israel, agency officials confirmed Sunday.

Pruitt, who had been scheduled to leave this weekend for an extensive tour of the Mideast ally, has come under fire over the past week for the cost of his domestic and international travel. In May, the head of Pruitt’s security detail recommended he travel either business or first class whenever possible to avoid public confrontations with critics.

“We decided to postpone; the administrator looks forward to going in the future,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an email Sunday. She did not provide a reason for the postponement.

Pruitt was to arrive in Israel on Sunday and would have stayed at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem from the time of his arrival until Thursday, according to people in Israel who were briefed on his plans. Support staff from the U.S. Embassy, which is located in Tel Aviv, were supposed to accompany him on his trip, standard protocol for any visiting cabinet members.

Israeli officials confirmed that Pruitt’s trip was official state business but could not say if the usual visits had been scheduled. He had been slated to meet with Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, but the office of the Israeli minister, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, confirmed that the meeting had been canceled.

Neither the U.S. embassy in Israel nor the Israeli Foreign Ministry would comment on Pruitt’s change in plans.

A public confrontation last May prompted Pruitt to switch to first-class travel, EPA officials say

A week ago, an EPA official said the administrator intended to meet with government officials as well as private-sector representatives and visit multiple sites in Israel “to gain an understanding of Israel’s unique infrastructure and environmental challenges.” Those stops included a water recycling plant, a meeting with officials from Israeli water technology companies and a tour of a toxic land remediation site. Pruitt also planned to travel to the port of Haifa to see sustainability efforts there, the official said.

Pruitt had also explored the idea of meeting with political activists in Israel. Officials at the Yesha Council, an umbrella group representing Jewish settlers in the West Bank, said they had discussed with U.S. government officials the idea of Pruitt meeting with Oded Revivi, the council’s chief foreign envoy. But nothing had been locked into place, they added.

During a trip to New Hampshire on Tuesday, Pruitt emphasized he did not make the choice himself to switch to more expensive flights.

“I’m not involved in any of those decisions,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Those are all made by the [security] detail, the security assessment, in addition to the chief of staff.”

Eglash reported from Jerusalem.

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