Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses
Lawmakers are blasting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for refusing to hold former agency head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Dems look to bypass EPA with asbestos ban | California moves to ban brain-damaging pesticide | Researchers tout new plastic as ‘Holy Grail’ of recycling California moves to ban brain-damaging pesticide as EPA resists court action Overnight Energy: Dems challenge Trump UN nominee on climate change | Senators seek probe into head of EPA air office | UN report warns 1 million species threatened by extinction MORE accountable for $124,000 in extravagant travel expenses.
Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday criticized EPA administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerCalifornia jury links weedkiller Roundup to cancer, awards couple billion Time to keep the promises for farmers to compete in energy EPA head asked to back up claim that climate change is ’50 to 75 years out’ MORE for deciding against asking his predecessor to pay back thousands in what they said were excessive and unjustified travel costs during his time heading the agency.
“Mr. Pruitt’s lavish tastes, and his use of taxpayer money to finance them, have become a punchline. But this isn’t a joke, and the Trump administration should take it seriously and take responsibility,” U.S. Senator Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump’s Yemen veto Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to Trump border wall from Afghan forces, other accounts Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump hits Iran with new sanctions amid standoff | Joint Chiefs chair floats longer military presence in Afghanistan | North Korea defends rocket test MORE (D-N.M.), who had called for an Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) investigation into Pruitt’s questionable flying habits, wrote in a statement.
The EPA’s OIG released a report Thursday that said Pruitt and his staff had overspent nearly $124,000 on “excessive” first class travel over the course of ten months in 2017. The government watchdog recommended the EPA request Pruitt pay back his share of costs.
“Yet Administrator Wheeler’s EPA rushed to defend Mr. Pruitt’s indefensible conduct following the release of this report – and the report itself indicates Administrator Wheeler’s team retroactively approved Mr. Pruitt’s travel, a de facto pardon of this unacceptable abuse of taxpayer money,” Udall said.
Pruitt resigned from EPA last July amidst a cloud of ethics concerns, including his use of elite travel accommodations for work trips.
The agency, in defending Pruitt, said it had received the necessary approvals for Pruitt’s travel, and announced Thursday it had retroactively approved all travel for the former administrator. It concluded it was therefore improper to ask Pruitt to pay back the funds.
“EPA’s disappointing response to the OIG’s report indicating that the Agency will not pursue cost recovery from Pruitt is yet another in a long line of examples of EPA failing to uphold its mission,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ.), Energy and Commerce Committee chairman.
“Pruitt may have long since resigned in disgrace, but it is clear that the Trump EPA continues to lack integrity and transparency.”
Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat Top Democrat calls for GAO to investigate climate threat Overnight Energy: Dems challenge Trump UN nominee on climate change | Senators seek probe into head of EPA air office | UN report warns 1 million species threatened by extinction MORE (D-Dela.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseTop Finance Dem offers bill to help those repaying student loans save for retirement Dems want Justice IG to investigate Barr Overnight Energy: Dems challenge Trump UN nominee on climate change | Senators seek probe into head of EPA air office | UN report warns 1 million species threatened by extinction MORE (D-RI.), both members of the House Environment and Public Works committee said Wheeler’s defense of Pruitt was akin to letting him “off the hook.”
“Resigning in disgrace shouldn’t let you off the hook for unprecedented unethical behavior, and the latest report released by the OIG today confirms that,” the lawmakers wrote in a joint statement.
“Yet, in its March 2019 response to the OIG’s finding, EPA retroactively approved all of the exorbitant travel costs identified by the OIG. We urge Administrator Wheeler to immediately reverse course on this irresponsible decision, and conduct much needed internal oversight, reform policies at the agency and take every step needed to recover these costs.”
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