EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has come under fire for taking noncommercial aircraft to conduct government business. Pruitt is being cast as the latest member of the Trump administration to abuse charter planes on the taxpayer’s dime, joining Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But the case of Pruitt seems different.
Price has reportedly taken several private flights costing in excess of $400,000. Some of those flights were to locations where Price owned property, though they coincided with government business. Others were round-trips between Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, cities between which there are several viable travel options. Mnuchin, meanwhile, reportedly flew on a military jet with his wife to Fort Knox, Ky., to see the solar eclipse. The rationale for these flights seem dubious, at best.
But each of Pruitt’s four noncommercial flights seems justified. The only private flight Pruitt took was between Denver and Durango, Col. for a meeting with state officials. According to EPA documents, the commercial flight Pruitt had initially scheduled was delayed for eight hours, putting his attendance at the meeting at risk. The chartered flight Pruitt wound up taking, the EPA says, was the only available option for Pruitt and the three other EPA employees he was traveling with. That flight cost $5,719.
Meanwhile, the other three flights were all on government aircraft. The most expensive was a military flight between Cincinnati — where Pruitt was attending a meeting with President Trump — and New York, where Pruitt immediately caught a commercial flight to Italy so he could participate in scheduled G7 meetings. Another military flight was to and from Guymon, Okla., where Pruitt and six other officials had a scheduled meeting. Guymon’s airport is too small to accommodate commercial aircraft, so this flight was the only option for Pruitt to attend the meeting. And the fourth flight was arranged by the state of North Dakota, a contribution that the EPA’s ethics office approved.
EPA spokeswoman Jahan Wilcox tells National Review that Pruitt has made a priority of visiting “cities, towns and states across the country hearing from Americans that were ignored by the past Administration.” That’s why he’s traveled to remote parts of the country. But Wilcox says “it is our policy to always fly commercial,” and in the “few instances that dictated otherwise . . . the decision to fly private or government aircraft was made based on necessity or efficiency.” Pruitt’s non-commercial flights appear to meet a common-sense test that those of colleagues do not.
Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this post, further reports have emerged of Pruitt unethically taking non-commercial flights.