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Travel costs for EPA chief’s security detail topped $30,000 on Italy trip

The travel costs for Scott Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail exceeded $30,000 during the Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s trip to Italy in June, according to documents released by the agency.

The precise breakdown of what Pruitt’s security contingent spent on flights and lodging remains unclear, because the agency released only a single, almost totally redacted page, showing that the detail’s travel expenses for June 5 to 12 came to $30,553.98. The Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy group, obtained the records under the Freedom of Information Act.

The latest figures shed new light on how much taxpayers spent to send Pruitt and a coterie of aides to Italy, where they got private tours of the Vatican, met with papal officials and business executives in Rome, and briefly attended a conference of environmental ministers in Bologna. The Washington Post previously reported that the trip had cost nearly $90,000, including $36,000 for use of a military jet to catch a flight in New York and a $7,000 premium-class ticket for Pruitt on the transatlantic flight.

The tab for the trip, which also included seven political appointees and two career officials, now appears closer to $120,000.

“That’s a lot of money for Mr. Pruitt to tour the Vatican, pose for photos and tell his European counterparts that global warming doesn’t matter,” Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement Tuesday. “And it doesn’t even include salary costs for everyone who signed up for this tour.  Maybe next time he should just send his regrets.”

EPA officials pushed back, saying the security measures were in line with those for past EPA administrators.

“Administrator Pruitt’s security detail followed the same procedures for the G-7 environmental meeting in Italy that were used during EPA Administrators Stephen Johnson, Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy’s trips to Italy,” agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an email. “EPA’s security procedures have not deviated over the past 14 years.”

However, the amount of security has escalated significantly under the current administration because of  Pruitt’s 24/7 protection since shortly after taking office. He and his aides say the heightened security is necessary, given the increased threat level he faces, including vulgar online comments and verbal confrontations during his public appearances. The incidents have included “some very personal, ugly threats,” Patrick Sullivan, the EPA assistant inspector general for investigations, told The Post last year.

Henry Barnet, who directs the EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training, said last month that the head of Pruitt’s security detail recommended in May he fly in first or business class to provide “a buffer” between him and the public. The memo by Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta was prompted by an incident that month when a person approached Pruitt “with threatening language” that was “vulgar,” Barnet said.

Separately Tuesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked the EPA’s inspector general to investigate whether the agency’s spending on Pruitt’s security detail is “excessive or inappropriate and whether it detracts from the agency’s ability to investigate environmental crimes.”

Whitehouse’s letter cites various instances in which Pruitt’s detail accompanied him around the clock even when he was not conducting official business, including when he attended the Rose Bowl game in January and later took his family to Disneyland. Whitehouse asked investigators about costs associated with such trips, namely how much taxpayers are responsible for.

“While I consider matters of personal security to be extremely serious,” the senator wrote, “personal security should never be used as a pretext to obtain special treatment.”

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