The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New documents show nearly $68,000 in recent premium flights, hotel stays for EPA’s Pruitt

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt answers questions from reporters during a White House daily briefing last June. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The Environmental Protection Agency turned over documents to Congress late Tuesday detailing nearly $68,000 in newly disclosed travel costs for Administrator Scott Pruitt during the past seven months.

The records, which came at the request of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and were obtained by The Washington Post, show dozens of first-class domestic and overseas flights for Pruitt and other trip expenses between August and last month. That figure, which includes stays at high-priced hotels in New York City and Paris, does not include the travel expenditures of the personal security detail and aides who typically accompany him.

EPA officials attribute the elevated costs of Pruitt’s travels to the security precautions they have undertaken because of the number of threats he has received — especially compared to his immediate predecessors — since joining President Trump’s Cabinet in February 2017.

The administrator has received round-the-clock security protection since shortly after he took office, and after a protester made vulgar and threatening remarks to Pruitt last spring, the head of his security detail recommended that he fly in first or business class to provide a buffer between him and the public.

“We have responded to Chairman Gowdy,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an email. “The letter explains EPA’s Protective Service Detail identified specific ongoing threats associated with Administrator Pruitt’s travel and shifted his class based on certain security protocols that require him to be near the front of the plane.”

Pruitt has been under fire for months because of his expenses, not just for travel in this country and abroad but for changes he has made at EPA headquarters, including the installation of a soundproof phone booth in his office for private communications.

Gowdy requested the latest information after The Post reported in February on Pruitt’s regular first-class travel. EPA officials initially indicated they had obtained blanket approval for him to buy premium-class tickets due to security concerns. A two-week stretch of travel in June by the administrator and his aides cost more than $120,000, according to records obtained by The Post and the Environmental Integrity Project under the Freedom of Information Act.

Pruitt’s aides later clarified that they clear each first-class ticket purchase with appropriate federal officials.

The latest documents reveal how that all adds up.

A journey to Morocco in December, where Pruitt and his aides promoted U.S. natural gas exports, ranked as the most costly trip detailed in the agency travel vouchers. They show that just Pruitt’s travel for the four-day trip — expenses for his roughly 10-person staff and security entourage were not disclosed — amounted to $17,631. The charges appear to include a $500 overnight stay in Paris on the way to Morocco. An EPA official said the trip was affected by weather delays, which prompted the group to stay in Paris on Dec. 10 before arriving in Rabat the next day.

Closer to home, Pruitt rang up hefty travel bills last summer and fall.

After Hurricane Harvey, Pruitt spent more than $3,900 on a one-day trip in late August to Corpus Christi, Tex., to visit with the city’s mayor and view damage at its port. Two weeks later, he returned to the state to visit a Superfund site in Houston that had been damaged by the storm and to participate in a roundtable at a technology company. After a weekend at home in Tulsa, he flew to New York to participate in the annual Concordia Summit. Those first-class flights cost $3,330, and records show he also spent $669 on a hotel room in Manhattan.

Pruitt never stayed off the road for long.

A five-day trip in October to Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Tulsa and Lexington, Ky., where he announced the rollback of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, cost taxpayers nearly $5,000 in airline tickets. A one-day trip that month to Jackson, Miss., to meet with the governor and tour farms cost nearly $3,200. Soon after, a one-day stop in Nashville to meet with the state’s governor and speak to a farm group entailed a $2,774.40 flight.

The records also underscore how often and to what lengths Pruitt traveled to speak to industry groups. He addressed the Texas Oil & Gas Association in October before heading to Nebraska for media stops. First-class flights: $3,610. He headed to New Orleans to speak to the Louisiana Chemical Association. First-class flight: $2,265. In November, he flew to Chicago to address the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers annual conference, at a cost of $1,172. The next day, he headed to Charleston, S.C., for the American Chemistry Council. That brief trip cost $3,155.

Travel in early December to Louisville, Des Moines and Tulsa cost $3,250. Days later, he headed to Florida to meet with Disney executives about food waste. His first-class seat cost $2,162.

Pruitt picked up 2018 where he left off. In January, he headed to Dallas for a day to meet with EPA regional administrators. His flight was $1,689.

Records show that at the end of January, he returned to New York for a day of interviews with Fox News, Fox Business, the Wall Street Journal, CBS News and the New York Times. Then it was back to Florida to visit a nursery near Tallahassee. That two-night trip cost $3,767.

A separate trip to Reno and Las Vegas in February to visit Superfund sites and do media interviews cost another $3,635. Later in the month, Pruitt took a brief trip to New England to visit another Superfund site and visit with New Hampshire’s governor, among other stops. His first-class flight to Boston: $1,428.

On one occasion, according to the new batch of travel vouchers, even a trip the administrator did not take ended up costing the government. The records show he had been scheduled to visit Australia for almost 10 days late last summer, meeting environmental officials and making site visits in Sydney and Melbourne. The journey ultimately was canceled, but records show that it cost the agency $1,927 to undo various flights and hotel reservations for Pruitt.

In Gowdy’s Feb. 20 letter, the lawmaker asked EPA to provide an array of documents by March 6 that would outline the circumstances under which Pruitt obtained permission from agency officials to eschew coach class.

“Clearly, federal regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate disabilities or special needs,” Gowdy wrote. “Instead, a waiver is required for each flight in order to fly first or business class when traveling on official government business.”

In an email Tuesday night, the communications director for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said members “are in the process of reviewing and evaluating the documents and information, which will determine the committee’s next steps.”

Pruitt appears poised to cut back on his first-class travel. Earlier this month, he told CBS News in a podcast interview that he would be flying coach more often. EPA officials have looked into the prospect of 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 leave the plane.

“There’s a change coming,” Pruitt told CBS, referring to his travel practices.

Read more:

First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure

Scott Pruitt’s $25,000 soundproof phone booth? It actually cost more like $43,000.

After uproar, EPA’s Pruitt says he plans to fly coach: ‘There’s a change coming’

Trump Cabinet members accused of living large at taxpayer expense