Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt says he flies first class on airplanes due to past interactions that have “not been the best.”
In an interview with WMUR in New Hampshire Tuesday, Pruitt said he flies first class for security purposes stemming from past negative travel experiences.
“There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator, as I’ve flown … of interaction that’s not been the best,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt was quick to note that his security team made the decisions on which class he traveled.
“Ingress and egress off the plane, the security aspect, those are decisions all made by our detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don’t make any of those decisions, they place me on the plane where they think is best from a safety perspective.”
When asked specifically whether he’s encountered “near confrontations” in coach, Pruitt declined to give specifics.
“Well it’s, I don’t really want to get into the specs. It’s just been situations where the inspector general many many months ago actually did an assessment about the threats we faced, unfortunately, are multiple of what previous administrators have faced. And so all of those decisions are made, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.”
Pruitt has a “blanket waiver” to federal standards that limit officials’ ability to book first-class flights on the taxpayer dime.
Citing “security threats” against Pruitt, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told The Hill late Tuesday that President Trump’s top environmental regulator has been granted more leeway in flying business class or first class.
The statement came amid new scrutiny into Pruitt’s travel expenses. The Washington Post reported Sunday that he frequently flies first class, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
CBS News reported late Tuesday that Pruitt flew business class on Emirates in June on a flight back from Italy after obtaining a waiver to rules that require official travel to be on United States-flagged airlines.
He flew first class again Tuesday to Boston. He told the New Hampshire Union Leader that his security detail dictated his travel choices, and he played no role in the decisions.
“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” Pruitt told the newspaper.
“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.”
Pruitt and his family have received far more threats than previous EPA leaders. E&E News reported that the EPA’s inspector general opened about 70 investigations into threats in 2017, about double the previous year.
In response, Pruitt and the EPA have taken additional security measures that his predecessors didn’t.
Timothy Cama contributed to this report.