The Office of the Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the agency should recoup nearly $124,000 from former EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
In a new report released Thursday, the EPA inspector general — which serves as a built-in watchdog to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse within the agency — said that of the 40 trips and $985,037 in costs racked up by the agency’s former administrator, Pruitt should pay back $123,942 in “excessive costs” accrued during his tenure.
According to the inspector general, the money Pruitt has been ordered to pay back comes primarily from numerous trips — both domestic and international — in which Pruitt flew first class or business class, while his staff flew coach. Many of those trips were to Pruitt’s primary residence in Tulsa, Oklahoma:
We also found that not all applicable provisions of the Federal Travel Regulation and/or EPA travel policy were followed. We identified:
• Improper granting of first/business-class exceptions
• Unjustified use of non-contract air carriers
• Improper approval of lodging costs above per diem
• Missing detailed support for trips with stops in Tulsa
• Improper approval of international business-class travel
• Inaccurate and incomplete international trip reports
In addition to controversy Pruitt faced over his travel, Pruitt also racked up questionable charges on other things in his own office, like a $40,000 private phone booth. He also aroused suspicions of corruption following his rental of a premium condo in Washington, DC well below market rate, which was owned by the wife of a fossil fuel lobbyist.
Pruitt’s tenure as EPA administrator was also known for being overly friendly to the industries his agency is tasked with regulating. Throughout 2017 and early 2018, both Pruitt and his top staffers took hundreds of meetings with lobbyists representing the fossil fuel, chemical manufacturing, and other polluting industries. Not long before he resigned in July of 2018, Pruitt overturned an EPA chemical disclosure rule from 2015 put in place following a deadly explosion at a chemical plant in Texas that killed 15 people.
Before becoming EPA administrator, Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, often on behalf of companies like Devon Energy, who sought to overturn EPA regulations. Pruitt’s replacement at the top of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.