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By Alan Kovski
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke defended his travel expenses Sept. 29 as a part of the job, including travel by chartered planes when less expensive commercial flights are unavailable to meet his scheduled plans.
His remarks came in response to news reports that called attention to his travels and suggested the trips were a waste of taxpayer dollars and had connections to political donors.
“I’d just like to address, in the words of General [H. Norman] Schwarzkopf, ‘a little BS’ on travel,” Zinke said at the start of an energy policy speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Interior secretaries travel extensively because of the widely scattered nature of the lands the department manages, including territories outside the continental U.S.
Zinke said he had traveled by chartered plane three times since being sworn in at Interior. Those flights were to the Arctic at the invitation of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; to Montana on a late-night flight to meet with the governor and the Western Governors Association; and to the U.S. Virgin Islands on the 100th anniversary of the islands’ transition from Danish to U.S. ownership.
Zinke said he flies coach class on commercial airlines. “There are times, however, we have to utilize charter services because we often travel in areas and under circumstances that we don’t have other flight options,” he said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement linking Zinke’s travels to the chartered flight travels of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Price promised this week to write a personal check to cover the cost of taking multiple chartered flights. But President Trump joined the criticism of his travels, and Price Sept. 29 announced his resignation.
Grijalva said the Trump administration “blows hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money on high-end travel.” The congressman said his statement was issued in response to a Washington Post story that said Zinke and his staff chartered a flight from Las Vegas to Montana on a private plane owned by oil and gas executives.
The information on Zinke’s travels was available on Interior’s website, the secretary said during his Heritage Foundation remarks. He also said his travel plans are cleared in advance with an Interior law and ethics office.
Zinke said he had traveled by military aircraft at the invitation of the president and vice president when he joined Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to meet with crews fighting wildfires.
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