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By Abby Smith
The EPA’s inspector general has launched an audit into Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “frequent travel” to his home state of Oklahoma following questions from former agency officials and others about how often he flies to and from the state at taxpayer expense.
The inspector general’s office said it “plans to begin preliminary research” into how much has been spent on Pruitt’s travel, including trips to Oklahoma, through July 31, according to an Aug. 28 memo it sent to Environmental Protection Agency acting chief financial officer David Bloom.
The office also wants to determine whether Pruitt and other staffers who traveled with him followed EPA travel policies and whether those policies “are sufficiently designed” to prevent fraud, waste, or abuse. The letter was signed by John Trefry, director of forensic audits for the inspector general’s Office of Audit.
The Environmental Integrity Project, a group started by former EPA officials, reported last month that Pruitt traveled to Oklahoma 10 times from March to May, with most of the payments coming from the agency’s budget. According to the group, which cited information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Pruitt spent 43 of 92 days in Oklahoma, with airfare costs exceeding $12,000.
In a statement to Bloomberg BNA, EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said Pruitt “is traveling the country to hear directly from the people impacted by EPA’s regulations outside of the Washington bubble. This is nothing more than a distraction from the administrator’s significant environmental accomplishments.”
And Pruitt told an Oklahoma City TV station in July that the Environmental Integrity Projects’s claims were unfounded.
“I think the whole question about travel—you’ve got to consider the source,” Pruitt told the station. “The folks talking about this, one, their facts are wrong and that’s not a surprise, but it’s an alt-EPA. It’s a group of employees that worked for Obama that formed an organization to put out these kinds of things that are not accurate.”
In a statement accompanying his group’s report, Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former EPA enforcement chief, said it “seems fair to ask whether all of Administrator Pruitt’s trips—and the money they cost taxpayers—are ‘essential to performance of the agency.’ It is also fair to ask how much additional money is spent to fly his entourage of security guards back and forth to his home state if that is where the Administrator is going to spend half his time.”
Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, joined committee members Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) in calling last month for an inspector general’s investigation. The lawmakers said the public has a “right to know if Administrator Pruitt is inappropriately making taxpayers foot the bill for his trips to Oklahoma.”
Critics of Pruitt, who served as Oklahoma’s attorney general before joining President Donald Trump’s administration, question if he’s interested in seeking the state’s governorship in 2018, when Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is term-limited, or Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) seat in 2020 if Inhofe decides to retire.
In an interview with The Oklahoman last month, Pruitt rejected suggestions that he would run for Oklahoma governor in 2018, though he did not specifically address a potential Senate bid. He told the newspaper that he would continue to lead EPA “as long as the Lord calls me to and as long as the president wants me to do it.”
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