Scott Pruitt is back in the big seats. Two days after an exposé in the Washington Post revealed the EPA administrator had spent more than $90,000 on plane tickets in June alone, not including fares for his unprecedented security detail, Politico reported that Pruitt was spotted flying first class from D.C. to Boston on Tuesday, a jaunt that takes a little more than an hour.
Shortly after landing, Pruitt addressed the criticism in an interview with the New Hampshire Union-Leader, saying that while he does not make the decision to fly first class himself, he had experienced “incidents” during his first months atop the Environmental Protection Agency:
“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment. … We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.”
A very toxic environment—you don’t say.
It’s true that Pruitt has generated an enormous amount of public outrage for rolling back environmental laws, and the EPA inspector general has said Pruitt has received more death threats than his predecessors. (The EPA inspector general is also investigating the lavish travel budget.) But it’s not clear what hazards, aside from those to your knees, lurk in the coach seats of the world’s most highly securitized public spaces. Nor is it evident how a first-class seat, separated from the proletariat by a gauze curtain, would help stop an assailant. Records obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project don’t show whether Pruitt’s security detail also flies first class.
Pruitt is just the latest Trump Cabinet member to come under fire for using public money to subsidize luxury travel. As Dahlia Lithwick and I wrote in June, officials have been dipping deep into the public purse for travel expenses as far back as the Roman Empire, though this administration seems particularly comfortable with the practice. After Health and Human Services head Tom Price resigned over air travel expenses last year, OMB chief Mick Mulvaney reminded the Cabinet of the undemocratic implications of ostentatious expensing.
It’s flamboyant behavior, but it also reflects the paranoia that appears to run deep in this Oklahoman oilman at the helm of the EPA. In addition to his security detail, as I wrote on Monday, Pruitt ”spent $25,000 on a soundproof privacy box for his office because he was worried about eavesdropping. He installed biometric locks and swept the office for bugs.”
But personal safety doesn’t explain all of Pruitt’s expenses. On Tuesday, CBS reported that the administrator obtained a waiver for his purchase of a $7,000 round-trip business-class ticket from New York to Milan to return on Emirates, one of the world’s pre-eminent luxury airlines (government officials are supposed to use U.S. carriers when possible). Pruitt said it was the only flight that could get him back in time for Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting—yes, that one. Business class travelers on Emirates’ Milan to JFK service receive, among other perks, a leather-trimmed Bulgari travel bag. He can use the shaving cream to defend himself from jet-setting clean water activists.