EPA stresses security concerns amid growing scrutiny of Administrator Scott Pruitt's pricey travel

Key Points
  • The EPA says concerns about Administrator Scott Pruitt's safety have required him to travel first and business class.
  • Federal regulations discourage first-class travel, but Pruitt has received a blanket waiver due to security concerns.
  • The EPA inspector general is already investigating Pruitt's travel habits.
Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency is stressing concerns about the safety of Administrator Scott Pruitt amid a flurry of new reports on the Trump appointee's first-class flights and travel costs.

Pruitt, whose travel habits are under investigation by the agency's inspector general, came under fresh scrutiny this week after a Washington Post story detailed at least $90,000 in travel costs accrued by the EPA during a short stretch in June.

On one of the flights in question, from Milan to Washington, D.C., Pruitt traveled aboard Emirates Airlines, which is known for its luxury premium cabins, CBS News reported Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Politico reported Pruitt flew first class on an American Airlines flight from Washington, D.C., to Boston. The EPA confirmed Politico's reporting to CNBC.

The renewed attention on Pruitt's travel is a potential concern for the EPA and the Trump administration, which has already seen one high-level deputy, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, resign over criticism of his use of chartered flights. Pruitt is widely viewed as one of the most effective members of the administration, particularly in its bid to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations.

But his starring role in President Donald Trump's deregulation agenda — and his history of climate change skepticism — have also made him one of the administration's most polarizing figures.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt says carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming

Due to security concerns, Pruitt has received a blanket waiver to travel first and business class, according to EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox.

Federal rules require that government employees book the lowest-cost travel arrangements that meet their needs, fly U.S. carriers and take first-class flights only in certain cases.

On Tuesday, Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader that security personnel made the decision that he fly first class.

"We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment," Pruitt said in an interview with the paper. He told the Union Leader there were some "incidents" during travel when he took his post early last year.

The EPA's Office of Inspector General opened 70 probes into threats against agency facilities and staff in fiscal 2017, up from 45 in 2016, Patrick Sullivan, the EPA's assistant inspector general for investigations, told the energy and environment website E&E News last month.

The EPA declined to comment when asked about why first-class travel is viewed as more secure, also saying members of Pruitt's security detail were behind the decision. A representative of Pruitt's security team could not immediately be reached for comment.