Environment

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Is Living Large—on American Taxpayers' Dime

While Pruitt is wasting public money on a lavish lifestyle, he's gutting the EPA's ability to protect Americans from dirty air and contaminated water.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt addresses EPA employees on February 21, 2017.
Photo Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In his first year as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt has spent almost a quarter of a million dollars on first-class seats, military and charter jets, a private phone booth and other luxuries.

That’s our money. That’s your money. That’s money the EPA could spend on protecting lead-poisoned kids, keeping chicken poop out of drinking water, or controlling deadly toxic chemicals in consumer products.  

The Environmental Integrity Project obtained government records showing that Pruitt and top staff racked up more than $197,000 in travel costs from March through August of 2017. In less than one month last year, the tab was $90,000. This included $1,641 for Pruitt’s first-class seat from Washington to New York – a flight of about 90 minutes – and more than $36,000 for a military jet to fly the 589 miles between Cincinnati and New York.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

The EPA’s inspector general is investigating both Pruitt’s travel expenses and his purchase of the $25,000 private phone booth. Last week, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee demanded that the EPA turn over all records related to Pruitt’s use of private aircraft and first-class seats on commercial flights.

Pruitt has said he needs to fly first class because he has unpleasant encounters with other passengers who don’t like his systematic dismantling of environmental and public health regulations—or as Time magazine put it, "because people are mean to him in coach." It would be cheaper to get him a companion animal to protect him from the unruly masses in the back of the plane.

In an op-ed for The Hill, Keith Gaby of the Environmental Defense Fund wrote that Pruitt has long had “a deep sense of entitlement” that holding high government office is about perks, not public service:

Pruitt is accustomed to conventions at fancy hotels paid for oil and gas companies who have funded his political rise. It seems likely that someone who had always used his position to add a little style to his life didn’t think it a big deal to get some extra leg room and a free glass of champagne on the taxpayers’ dime. 

Here are some of the other things Pruitt’s been doing with our money:

  • He took a government jet from Tulsa, Okla., to Guymon, Okla., in July, at the cost of $14,434. That’s just one of his frequent taxpayer-funded trips back to the state where he was once attorney general, fueling speculation that he wants to run for the Senate or governor.
  • He hired 30 bodyguards for his 24/7 security detail, which CNN estimates will cost taxpayers $2 million a year. Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, had one security guard with her while she commuted to and from work, and three to accompany her when she traveled outside of Washington.
  • He had “access control card readers” installed outside his office – to the tune of $15,780. Both McCarthy and another former EPA administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, told CNN they kept their office doors unlocked.

Fifteen thousand dollars here, $2 million there: It adds up.

Pruitt is treating the U.S. Treasury like a spoiled kid abusing his parents’ credit card. Meanwhile, he’s gutting the EPA’s ability to protect the public from toxic pollution, dirty air and contaminated water. Of course, the air and water quality is much different in a first-class cabin at 30,000 feet, which is where Pruitt seems to spend much of his time.

Even compared to other members of President Trump’s cabinet who like to fly high on taxpayer dollars, Pruitt’s travel spending is indefensible. It’s time to send him home to Oklahoma for good. A one-way ticket from Washington to Tulsa is about $300—in coach.

Alex Formuzis is the Vice President for Strategic Campaigns at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. Alex came to EWG after 8 years as a senior aide to three members of the United States Senate. Prior to his time on Capitol Hill he was in the public affairs shop of the Clinton Treasury Department, in the policy shop for the NGO Independent Sector, and worked on state and local campaigns in Washington State.

Bill Walker is the Vice President and Managing Editor of Environmental Working Group