U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján
From the Office of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján:
Washington, D.C. – During a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján questioned Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about his travel, his failure to visit low-income communities and communities of color, and whether he will take responsibility for the many scandals at the EPA.
Watch the video of Rep. Luján’s exchange with Pruitt here.
Luján Administrator Pruitt, you seem to view the EPA budget as a personal slush fund, redirecting resources to your personal travel that should go to environmental protection. During your tenure, you have spent more than $160,000 on travel in first class, on private jets, and on military craft. Public office is a public trust, and I think flying coach is the least we can do to deserve that trust. My question for you is this – when you are paying for your own airfare with personal funds do you fly coach?
Pruitt: I follow the security recommendations of my team when I pay for it personally as well.
Luján: Will you commit to reimbursing tax payers for your luxury travel?
Pruitt: You refer to it as luxury travel and the hundred and sixty thousand dollars that you refer to pales in comparison to the previous administrations. I think you’re referring to international travel. I took two international trips. The previous administrations took multiple trips and spent far more than that. These decisions about security detail, who attends and what they do to provide protection happen according to law enforcement recommendations and that’s what I followed.
Luján: It’s been recently reported by EPA ethics officials that on at least two personal trips, you flew in coach on Southwest Airlines using a companion pass from Ken Wagner, your subordinate at the EPA. Clearly a plane ticket has more than nominal value. Are you aware that federal ethics rules prohibit you from accepting gifts from subordinates?
Pruitt: And that’s not represented accurately, what you said. We actually flew like carpooling, we shared cost from Oklahoma-
Luján: Did Ken Wagner give you that boarding pass?
Pruitt: There was no gift whatsoever.
Luján: Alright, well, I think that those ethics officials will continue to look into that. Mr. Pruitt, your travel since becoming Administrator has taken you to Morocco, Italy, and to luxury resorts around the United States. We’ve even heard from Kevin, a political appointee who worked in your office, who you told staffers to, quote “find me something to do” close quote in order to schedule travel to your desired destinations.
Unfortunately, it seems your desired destinations have rarely included low income communities and communities of color facing serious environmental risks. The biggest problem with the pay to play system is that those most at risk are also the most unable to pay for your attention and concern. Of your extensive travel spending how much would you say you spend visiting low income communities and communities of color?
Pruitt: I would consider East Chicago, which I’ve made trips there, I was in region five recently this week and San Jacinto and Houston as indicated earlier. The trip to Italy was a G7 trip occurring a week after the Paris decision. I was there for four days around the G7. Uh, there was a free trade agreement that is in existence with Morocco and the ambassador of Morocco invited me to Morocco to negotiate the environmental chapter on that free trade agreement. Both of those things are very important to the scope of our duties at the EPA.
Luján: Mr. Administrator you’ve gone to great lengths to keep your calendar secret, but what’s come out is it’s clear that most of your meetings with stakeholders have been with industry and not impacted communities. I think we can agree with that. Do you see the problem with granting greater access to polluting industries than impacted communities?
Pruitt: I’ve met with stakeholders across the country on these issues, people that we regulate that their voices have not been heard for many years. Those farmers and ranchers that I’ve met with. They’re our first environmentalists and first conservationists.
Luján: Do you understand that you have a responsibility to protect the health and environment of low income, minority, tribal, and indigenous communities?
Luján: Throughout your brief tenure as EPA Administrator, you have directed significant policy changes made with disproportionately harm to low income, minority, tribal and indigenous communities. The repeal of the Once-in, Always-in policy mentioned by my colleague Mrs. Dingell for example. The weakening of coal ash regulations is another.
But, Mr. Pruitt today you repeatedly blamed your Chief of Staff, your Chief Counsel, Career Officials, and others. Yes or no, are you the EPA Administrator?
Pruitt: I said that in my opening statement, Congressman. And I didn’t blame anyone I just simply shared facts with you-
Luján: Mr. Administrator it’s just a simple yes or no question, sir. Are you the EPA administrator?
Pruitt: I said in my opening statement that I take responsibility, have made changes historically, and making changes going forward and I simply have not failed to take responsibility, I’ve simply recited the facts of what’s occurred.
Luján: It’s a simple question Mr. Pruitt, are you the EPA administrator?
Luján: Just to be clear, do you run the EPA?
Pruitt: I do.
Luján: Yes or no, are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?
Pruitt: I’ve responded to many of those questions here today with facts and information.
Luján: Are you able to answer that in yes or no?
Pruitt: That’s not a yes or no answer, Congressman.
Luján: It’s pretty simple that it’s a yes or no answer here. There is clear concern with what’s been happening, not just by the entire Congress and I appreciate you being here today, but these questions need to be asked and answered.
Pruitt: And we have answered them today.
Luján: And you are not the only one that has been doing these ugly things, these horrific things, these scandal-plagued things in this Administration and I hope that this is one of many hearings that this committee will have so we can get to the bottom of this and make sure taxpayers are made whole.
Video of the complete hearing is available here.