Former Oklahoma attorney general and current Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt reportedly has a pretty pricey travel habit, and for a very specific reason. Namely, according to The Washington Post, Pruitt has been flying in expensive first-class seats for months, racking up a cost of tens of thousands of dollars throughout his tenure at the top of the EPA. And the reason, according to the Associated Press, is that he's avoiding standard-priced commercial travel in order to avoid unpleasant encounters with the public that's traveling in coach.
The report from The Washington Post specifically details a first-class flight from Washington, D.C. to New York last June, which reportedly cost $1,641.43. It also noted that Pruitt and several staffers rode a military jet from Cincinnati, Ohio back to New York following an event with President Donald Trump, shortly before hopping a first-class flight to Rome.
According to the report, EPA records show that Pruitt's round-trip flight to Rome cost a whopping $7,003.52, many times the amount that other official paid to make the trip. Pruitt is not the first member of the Trump administration cabinet to draw scrutiny for their use of high-cost travel ― last year, former Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price resigned over scrutiny of his use of private chartered jets, which cost more than $1 million in taxpayer funds.
Pruitt's pricey reported travel budget doesn't stop there. The report states that Pruitt and his staffers racked up more than $90,000 in travel-related costs throughout that stretch last June, and every cent of that was paid by taxpayer money. As Vox noted, in addition to Price and now Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Veteran's Affairs Secretary David Shulkin have all faced varying degrees of scrutiny for their taxpayer-funded travel.
In Perry's case, the controversy was for very similar reasons to what's now being reported about Pruitt ― based on reports that the 67-year-old former Texas governor has burnt up tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars flying on chartered and government flights.
In Zinke's case, reports claimed that he's spent thousands on helicopter rides, including one to whisk from Washington, D.C. to Yorktown, Virginia and back again, so that he wouldn't have to miss his plans to go horseback riding with Vice President Mike Pence.
Shulkin, on the other hand, faced similar scrutiny for improper use of taxpayer funds after a European trip last year. According to USA Today, Shulkin ultimately reimbursed the federal government.
This is far from the only controversy that's emerged throughout Pruitt's tenure atop the EPA. Additionally, the 49-year-old has been involved in the rolling back of a number of Obama-era environmental protections, and that's not terribly surprising based on his career prior to heading the agency. While serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the Obama administration's EPA multiple times, contesting its authority to impose regulations on air and water pollution.
It's not just the Trump cabinet that's drawn criticism for the amount of taxpayer money that's been spent on travel, either. To the contrary, Trump himself has been criticized for the frequency and cost of his many trips, whether to his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, or his palatial Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago. By some estimates, Trump has already cost taxpayers more than $50 million on travel and travel-related security costs so far.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Pruitt will face any deeper consequences amid the scrutiny. Thus far, the only cabinet member to actually resign over such expenses has been Price; he reportedly spent more than $1 million in taxpayer funds on luxury travel, a higher total figure than anything yet reported of Pruitt.