House Dems want watchdog to probe Pruitt’s first-class flying

House Dems want watchdog to probe Pruitt\'s first-class flying
EPA’s Scott Pruitt got waiver to fly business class on foreign carrier from Italy to US
nEnvironmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an infrastructure initiative meeting. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg)

The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis reported in detail on how Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt has distinguished himself from his predecessors with his “secretive, costly and frequent” travel habits.

EPA's Scott Pruitt got waiver to fly business class on foreign carrier from Italy to US
EPA’s Scott Pruitt got waiver to fly business class on foreign carrier from Italy to US

EPA’s Scott Pruitt got waiver to fly business class on foreign carrier from Italy to US

In the month of June alone, Pruitt jetted from Washington to New York, back to Washington, then onto Cincinnati, New York and Italy. By itself, the Cincinnati-to-New York leg on a military jet for the EPA head and his staffers cost taxpayers a hefty $36,068.50. 

The Energy 202: How the Pruitt first-class flight story spun out of control

Pruitt left the summit of environmental ministers in Italy a day early to attend a Cabinet meeting at which Trump’s deputies lauded the president’s job performance. Then it was on to Tulsa, where the former Oklahoma attorney general has a home. 

February 09, 2018Sarah Jones5 days agoOlivier Douliery/Abaca PressTrump sympathizes with alleged abuser Rob Porter. In his first public remarks since the White House aide resigned over domestic-abuse allegations, President Donald Trump stopped just short of defending his former staffer. “He worked very hard,” he said. “I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well. It’s a … obviously tough time for him. He did a very good when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. Hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it. Certainly he’s also very sad. Now, he also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.” (The BBC has full video of Trump’s remarks.)

Sunday’s story was hardly the first about Pruitt’s flying habits. But the story engendered a new round of scrutiny that filled in more holes around EPA chief’s travel habits. Pruitt did himself no favors by taking one more first-class flight since the story came out. 

In the past two decades, only one nuclear energy project has been finished in the U.S., due in part to “soaring construction costs and competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy,” the Times reports. The two nuclear reactors being built at Georgia Power’s Vogtle station, near Augusta, are the only reactors currently under construction in the country. Without an extension of the tax credit, which was due to expire in 2020 and is helping the company cover construction costs, the project would have been all but dead. The Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates the state’s energy sector, told the Times in December that, should the tax credit not be extended, the commission “may reconsider the decision to move forward.”

The narrative of a high-flying Trump Cabinet official is reminiscent of the repeated allegations that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price took a host of charter flights at taxpayer expense. Price was forced to resign in September amid rampant criticism. But Pruitt has an advantage Price didn’t: President Trump likes Pruitt, and he is getting environmental deregulation done in a way Price was not able to do on health care. The EPA chief is also considered one of Trump’s most effective political appointees.

Alex Shephard2 days agoBloomberg/GettyWill this Infrastructure Week be any different?Over the course of 2017, the Trump administration repeatedly claimed that it was “Infrastructure Week,” the week in which the administration would finally unveil its long-promised infrastructure plan. But Infrastructure Week, it turned out, was really just a state of mind, or at least had little or nothing to do with infrastructure at all. While the administration would occasionally release a cocktail-napkin plan, most infrastructure weeks were notable for the non-bridge-and-road-related drama that accompanied them. In early June, when the administration released its sketched out plan, for instance, Trump instead spent most of the week feuding with James Comey:

The EPA doesn’t have enough money to keep investigating Pruitt’s scandals

This week, the headlines kept coming as the EPA fought to respond to the burgeoning storyline.

On Tuesday, Pruitt was spotted taking a first-class flight from Washington to Boston, according to Politico.

It’s true that Pruitt has generated an enormous amount of public outrage for rolling back environmental laws, and the EPA inspector general has said Pruitt has received more death threats than his predecessors. (The EPA inspector general is also investigating the lavish travel budget.) But it’s not clear what hazards, aside from those to your knees, lurk in the coach seats of the world’s most highly securitized public spaces. Nor is it evident how a first-class seat, separated from the proletariat by a gauze curtain, would help stop an assailant. Records obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project don’t show whether Pruitt’s security detail also flies first class.

After the EPA administrator landed, he told the New Hampshire Union Leader he is “not involved in any of those decisions” about travel arrangements. “Those are all made by the [security] detail, the security assessment in addition to the chief of staff,” he added. The EPA told Politico that Pruitt has a “blanket waiver” from federal standards limiting government employees from booking first-class tickets because of concerns about his security. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told The Post on Sunday all of Pruitt’s travel expenses have been approved by federal ethics officials.

Pruitt is just the latest Trump Cabinet member to come under fire for using public money to subsidize luxury travel. As Dahlia Lithwick and I wrote in June, officials have been dipping deep into the public purse for travel expenses as far back as the Roman Empire, though this administration seems particularly comfortable with the practice. After Health and Human Services head Tom Price resigned over air travel expenses last year, OMB chief Mick Mulvaney reminded the Cabinet of the undemocratic implications of ostentatious expensing.
The Energy 202: How the Pruitt first-class flight story spun out of control
The Energy 202: How the Pruitt first-class flight story spun out of control

In pushing back strongly against accusations of impropriety — a Trump-like stance the EPA’s media shop has adopted — the agency kicked up more dust than it bargained for. As other reporters tried to confirm the latest first-class ticket, the EPA told the New Republic to “contact Politico about the accuracy of their reporting.”

The Politico reporter who broke the Boston-flight story did have something to say — publicly, on Twitter:

Scott Pruitt Has to Fly First Class Because Coach Is “Politically Toxic”

When pressing about that “blanket waiver,” the agency told reporters to file a Freedom of Information Act request instead of answering questions.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt says he flies first class due to ‘toxic’ politics, safety concerns

EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox confirms to me that @EPAScottPruitt has a “blanket waiver” to fly in business and first class for “security threats.”Said reporters had to FOIA EPA for more details about who signed off on the waiver.

The Washington Post reported this week that Pruitt once spent $1,641.63 on a first-class seat for the 90-minute flight from Washington, DC, to New York City to do a television interview about President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. The ticket cost six times as much as the tickets for the two media aides who traveled with him in coach.

Pruitt: Coach travel yielded interactions that have ‘not been the best’

The latest media hit came Tuesday night, when CBS News aired an evening-news report on Pruitt’s travel, revealing the EPA head flew back from Milan on the luxurious Emirates Airlines. The carrier was the only one “that would get the administrator back in time” for the Cabinet meeting, the EPA told CBS.

Pruitt may not end up in the same situation as Price, however, for the simple reason that he is considered effective by Trump and his conservative allies. Some of Trump’s favorite talking points — pulling out of the Paris climate accord, beginning the repeal of the Clean Power Plan — were engendered by Pruitt’s EPA. His position in the administration is much stronger than that of Price when the former Georgia lawmaker was canned in September shortly after Congress failed yet again to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

Is Scott Pruitt an EPA chief or a pop star?

But that doesn’t mean Democrats won’t try to take every advantage of the story. As Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to President Obama, says:

Here are some of the threats that allegedly require Scott Pruitt to fly first class.
Here are some of the threats that allegedly require Scott Pruitt to fly first class.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao talks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The letter underscored a key facet of President Trump’s infrastructure plan, which calls for streamlining environmental rules and giving one agency the final authority in issuing a permit or license for a project. The FirstLight facility at Candlewood Lake was required to file with FERC, Interior Department wildlife regulators and state offices to ensure it did not violate the parameters of its FERC license during the emergency weather event.

Democrats ask EPA watchdog to investigate Scott Pruitt’s ‘blanket waiver’ for first-class flights

— More gas tax talk: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Tuesday a gas tax to pay for transportation funding is “on the table.” “The president has not declared anything out of bounds,” Chao said when asked whether the administration would consider a 25-cent-a-gallon increase, per Fox Business.

— Dirty uses for “clean coal” money: The Energy Department’s inspector general found Summit Power Group, a company awarded $450 million in grants from Obama’s Energy Department in money meant for carbon capture, spent $1.3 million on “unallowable costs,” including spas, alcohol, first-class travel, limousines, catering on a private jet and travel expenses, and another $1.2 million on lobbying efforts to change how the grant funds are taxed, Bloomberg reports.

The company that owns the Northfield facility was called upon during last month’s winter storm by the FERC-overseen New England grid operator to provide power to the grid amid soaring demand for electricity for heating. As the Connecticut power plant ramped up, the water level at its dam fell below required levels.

— Trump vs. the intel community: The U.S. intelligence community broke with President Trump’s White House again — not over Russia meddling but over climate change. “The impacts of the long-term trends toward a warming climate, more air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent — and possibly upheaval — through 2018,” says the Worldwide Threat Assessment, which was submitted for a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, per Bloomberg News.

“EPA will continue to work with our partners in the states to make responsible use of our country’s tremendous natural resources,” Pruitt said after touring FirstLight Energy’s Northfield Mountain Generating Station in Massachusetts with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Neil Chatterjee.

— Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer convened a panel of five mental health experts this week who warned about the consequences of the president’s mental health for the nation, Politico reports. It’s the latest effort from Steyer, who has stoked speculation about his own political plans with his efforts to impeach Trump.

— She was naming lawmakers who took oil-and-gas money, then they barred her from the public hearing: Lissa Lucas, a little-known candidate for a state house seat in rural West Virginia, was removed from a West Virginia House Judiciary Committee hearing last week when she began listing the oil and gas donations to lawmakers’ campaigns, The Post’s Avi Selk reports. “I was hoping to make them realize how it looks,” she said. “It’s not just the issue of impropriety. It’s the issue of the appearance of impropriety that’s breaking our government.”

Scott Pruitt’s Obscenely Expensive Travel Is a Scandal

— Moniz moves: Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will join the board of utility giant Southern Company. Moniz served in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017. “I have long admired Southern Co. for its innovative approach to research and development within the clean energy space and look forward to joining the board,” Moniz said in a statement. He will join as an independent director beginning on March 1.

Roses are on display on Valentine’s Day in Kolkata, India. (Piyal Adhikary/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

— Roses are green, and violets can be green too: What does it mean to have an “eco-friendly” flower for Valentine’s Day? It’s a “thorny” issue, Bloomberg News acknowledges. “Were chemicals used? Did the farm practice good water management? Is the farm built on land that formerly hosted a rainforest? Were the people who grew the flowers paid fairly and treated humanely? What was the ecological cost of transporting the flowers?,” the news site asks. Marc Hachadourian, director of the Nolen Greenhouses at the New York Botanical Garden, said “it’s a complicated and much deeper issue than just saying something is sustainably grown.”

— The conditions that led to a multiyear drought in California are back: And by at least one measure, the drought has already returned. “A ridge of high-pressure air off the West Coast has persisted for much of the past three months, blocking many Pacific storms from reaching California and weakening others that do get through,” the New York Times reports. “Normally such ridges tend to come and go, but they also lingered during the 2012-16 drought, the worst in the state’s history.”

EPA Head Scott Pruitt Has a ‘Blanket Waiver’ to Fly First Class

— How the climate affects your health: Doctors in Florida are warning about the risks of the changing climate on public health, forming a group called “Florida Clinicians for Climate Action.” “Heat worsens asthma, heart and lung disorders and even mental illnesses. Rising seas push floodwater polluted by leaky sewage pipes into neighborhoods. A changing climate helps spread mosquito-bourne diseases (think Zika), and research shows it makes hurricanes stronger and more common,” the Miami Herald reports. “And who’s most vulnerable? The same people that always are, doctors say: low income populations, the elderly and people of color.”

An Exxon sign is seen at a station in Manassas, Va. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

— ExxonMobil sues the suers: Oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, claiming state officials and environmental activists are “conspiring” against it, have targeted at least 30 people and organizations with lawsuits, threats of lawsuits or deposition demands, Bloomberg News reports. “Experts say Exxon’s combative strategy — an extraordinary gambit to turn the tables — is a clear sign of what’s at stake for the fossil-fuel industry.” The company has denied allegations it misled investors about climate change amid investigations by the states of New York and Massachusetts along with lawsuits from municipalities. 

— Leave courtship for the birds: On this Valentine’s Day, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan explains why birds are just better at dating. “When it comes to courtship, members of the Aves class are a class unto themselves….And while their flirting strategies are a bit, well, unusual — blue-footed boobies try to attract partners by waggling their aquamarine appendages — they’re certainly more creative than the pickup lines preferred by humans.” Watch some avian courtship rituals in the video above.

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