The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, facing ongoing criticism about his taxpayer-funded, first-class travels, says he plans to spend more time in coach.
“There’s a change coming,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told CBS News in a podcast set to air Friday.
Pruitt has faced a public backlash and inquiries from Congress in recent weeks, after The Washington Post detailed dozens of first-class flights Pruitt had taken through last summer, as well as his penchant for staying at luxury hotels.
In the CBS interview, Pruitt stopped short of saying he plans to fly coach on all future trips, and he reiterated that his personal security detail recommended last year that he begin flying first class because of the number of threats he has faced.
“Look, there have been incidents on planes. There have been incidents in airports, and those incidents, you know, occurred, and they are of different types,” Pruitt said. “These threats have been unprecedented from the very beginning, and the quantity and type are unprecedented.”
Pruitt said he had a “responsibility” to listen to the advice of agency security officials, including one who wrote a memo to superiors last May after an incident in which a fellow traveler allegedly approached the EPA leader using “vulgar” and “threatening” language. The memo argued that Pruitt should be allowed to fly first or business class to provide “a buffer” between him and the public.
“Now, what I’ve done going forward is I’ve instructed those same individuals to accommodate those security threats in alternate ways — up to and including flying coach going forward,” Pruitt told CBS. “There is a change occurring. You’re going to accommodate the security threats as they exist, you’re going to accommodate those in all ways, alternate ways, up to and including flying coach, and that’s going to happen on my very next flight.”
One option agency officials have explored is seating Pruitt in the bulkhead row, which has more legroom than a traditional coach seat and also would allow him to be among the first passengers to disembark.
The EPA has refused to release the written “waiver” that allows Pruitt to fly regularly in first or business class, based on security concerns. But since Pruitt began flying in upscale cabins last spring — a practice that sets him apart both from his predecessors and other current Cabinet members — he has logged numerous trips and amassed a hefty set of expenses.
On one occasion, he took a $1,641.53 first-class flight from Washington to New York for a pair of television interviews. Soon after, taxpayers paid roughly $90,000 for Pruitt and a group of aides to travel to an international gathering in Italy, including a visit with officials in Rome, where he toured the Vatican. That figure does not account for the costs of Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, which have not been disclosed.
Pruitt spent $4,443 for separate round trips to Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta for visits that included a power plant and farm tour. On at least four occasions, he has spent between $2,000 and $2,600 on first-class airfare to official meetings or tours near Tulsa, where he lives. Frequently, he stayed in Tulsa for the weekend, according to travel records released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Pruitt’s future overseas travel plans are also likely to be influenced by his pick for head of EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, which the White House will announce soon. Pruitt has recruited someone from the private sector, according to two administration officials briefed on the decision, who will replace the acting principal deputy assistant administrator, Jane Nishida.