scott-pruitt-gold-king

While everyone has been focusing on the Tom Price affair, the media is trying to use a similar attack on their favorite boogeyman, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. This is the Washington Post: EPA’s Pruitt took charter, military flights that cost taxpayers more than $58,000.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000 to fly him to various parts of the country, according to records provided to a congressional oversight committee and obtained by The Washington Post.

Let me depart here for a moment. When a cabinet secretary, agency administrator, and some sub-cabinet appointments (like, for instance, the head of ICE) travel on official business I don’t have a problem with them using a private plane. Federal employees are required to work while on travel and I’d rather they be able to do so comfortably and efficiently. I’d rather they not be worried about being overheard. This is not a new found belief, it is one that I held when Obama officials were getting dinged for using military aircraft for travel. Where I leave is when government aircraft are used for holiday travel:

In 2014, Holder, while attorney general, boarded a government-owned Gulfstream and flew to the Belmont Stakes Thoroughbred horse race in New York with his daughters, their boyfriends and two security officers.

According to records obtained by The Daily Caller from the Department of Justice, that trip cost the government $14,440. But Holder only had to reimburse the government $955 for that flight — the equivalent cost of a coach commercial airline ticket for each non-law enforcement passenger.

FoxNews’ John Roberts dug into the story and this is what he found:

SANDRA SMITH: John, you’re getting new information on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s charter and government flights.

JOHN ROBERTS: All of this started with HHH Secretary Tom Price and if the revelation that he spent $400,000 on private flights. Now people are talking about the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt taking a number of noncommercial flights.

A source tells me it was four flights in total. The only charter flight was one between Denver, Colorado and Duragno. This was after the commercial flight on United Airlines that the Administrator was booked on, was delayed for eight hours and he would have missed this event in a mine had they not chartered the flight. They also asked the Governor of Colorado if they could jump on his plane. They were initially told there was no room. And then after they chartered the aircraft, the Governor said well we’ve got one seat, which still wouldn’t have been any good. The Administrator could’ve flown but his staff wouldn’t have.

The other flights were government flights. One was a military flight from Cincinnati to JFK so the Administrator could jump a commercial flight to Italy … so that he attend the G7 Summit. Another was a Department of Interior flight inside of Oklahoma. Would have taken more than five hours to drive there. The EPA reimbursed the Department of Interior for that. The other one was ride on the Governor of North Dakota’s aircraft between two cities in North Dakota, between Fargo and Grand Forks for which the governor was reimbursed. All of that was cleared by the EPA office of ethics. So they’re saying this is not a Tom Price situation, this is completely different. Sandra.

SMITH: John Roberts, thank you.

In fact, when you look into the Post’s story, they say much the same.

On July 27, records show, Pruitt and six staff members arranged a flight on a Department of Interior plane from Tulsa to the tiny outpost of Guymon, Okla., at a cost of $14,434.50. The EPA noted that “time constraints” on Pruitt’s schedule wouldn’t allow him to make the 10-hour round-trip drive. The purpose of the trip was to meet with landowners “whose farms have been affected” by a controversial rule regulating water bodies in the United States, according to the agency. Pruitt has initiated a process to withdraw the regulation, known as the Waters of the United States rule.

Bowman said that between 50 and 100 farmers and others from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas attended the session in Guymon.

Note the aircraft was owned by Department of the Interior.

Pruitt and three staff members arranged a private air charter on Aug. 4, on a trip from Denver to Durango, Colo. The flight cost $5,719.58. According to the EPA, the commercial flight Pruitt had planned to take “was delayed ultimately for eight hours, which would have caused him to miss a mission critical meeting at Gold King Mine” with Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and other officials. Hickenlooper offered a seat on his plane, but Bowman said that the governor’s aircraft only had room for Pruitt and that the EPA already had booked the private plane by then. The charter company involved, Mayo Aviation, bills itself as “Colorado’s premier jet charter service.”

We don’t know if the booking could have been canceled without penalty, but probably not. And in any event, it isn’t like Pruitt would have been flying free. As we see later, he would still have had to reimburse Colorado for the flight. One gets the feeling this is the real bone they have to pick with Pruitt over this particular flight:

That day, Pruitt criticized how two years earlier EPA had mishandled operations at the Gold King Mine, where the agency inadvertently triggered a spill that polluted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. “The previous administration failed those who counted on them to protect the environment,” he said in a statement, vowing to reconsider claims for damages the government previously had denied.

(see my post here)

Finally, on Aug. 9, Pruitt and two staffers traveling in North Dakota flew on a state-owned plane to an event in Grand Forks. The flight cost the EPA $2,144.40. “The Governor of the State of North Dakota offered seats on the state-owned plane to transport the Administrator to this event,” the agency noted in its justification for the trip, which involved touring the University of North Dakota’s Environmental Research Center. “There is no government rate established for this route.”

The important takeaway from this last bit is that here Pruitt flew on a state-owned plane by the governor “offer[ing] seats.” In other words he took the North Dakota governor up on the offer he had been forced to decline from Colorado’s governor. He was still bill $2,144. The preceding paragraph makes it seem as though Pruitt was being offered a free ride. He wasn’t. Ironically, the clincher is in the Post’s own story:

The records also indicate that Pruitt, along with a member of his security detail, flies either in business or first class when those seats are available on commercial flights. Multiple EPA travel documents state that Pruitt “is entitled to business class accommodation due to security concerns.”

Bowman said that while Pruitt flies in such classes when that is an option, he has also flown on multiple occasions in coach.

This whole private/charter/military aircraft scandal is a nothingburger. It is the way business has always been conducted. In fact, the Trump administration has even been tighter on using non-commercial flights than the Obama administration.

According to statistics provided by a senior administration official, the Trump White House has authorized fewer trips on military planes for senior officials than the Obama administration did during the first eight months in office.

From Jan. 20 to Sept. 19, the Trump administration authorized 77 military flights, while the Obama administration allowed 94 flights during the same time period, according to the stats.

[I know I’m guilty of the sin of “whatabboutism” here because it is totally off limits to point out what any previous administration did if it means you aren’t taking a shot at President Trump and his administration.]

People should realize what this is. It is a cheap political attack designed to score points. It is a shame that a guy who is really changing the way HHS works, like Tom Price, has been caught up in this nonsense. We can’t let another game-changer like Scott Pruitt be hurt by it, too.