The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s inspector general has launched a “preliminary investigation” into administrator Scott Pruitt‘s frequent trips back to his home state of Oklahoma “at taxpayer expense” following congressional requests.
The Office of Inspector General said in a letter it will investigate the “frequency, cost and extent of” Pruitt’s travel to Oklahoma through the end of July. The office will also try to determine “whether EPA policies and procedures are sufficiently designed to prevent fraud, waste and abuse with the Administrator’s travel that included trips to Oklahoma.”
According travel records obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project, Pruitt spent 48 of the 92 days in March, April and May traveling, including 43 days on trips that included stops in Oklahoma. Airfare for these trips reportedly cost more than $12,000.
Before being tapped by President Trump to lead the EPA, Pruitt served as Oklahoma’s attorney general who sued the agency he now heads more than a dozen times over environmental regulations.
His visits home as well as his stops to 25 Republican-led states during his cross-country “listening tour” have fueled reports that Pruitt wants to run for higher office. According to POLITICO, “[he’s] spending time with GOP leaders and influential industries and packing in as many media hits as possible, laying out well-rehearsed talking points to bash former President Barack Obama’s EPA.”
“Pruitt seems to be using these visits to launch his political career,” Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce told Reuters. “Perhaps he should use polluter money to fund these trips if he’s going to continue doing their bidding.”
Reuters reports that Pruitt paid for some legs of the trips directly related to his visits home but it is unclear if he paid for all of them.
EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham defended Pruitt’s travel.
“Administrator Pruitt is traveling the country to hear directly from the people impacted by EPA’s regulations outside of the Washington bubble,” Graham said. “This is nothing more than a distraction from the administrator’s significant environmental accomplishments.”
EPA Inspector General to examine EPA Scott Pruitt’s “frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense.” pic.twitter.com/IWOhTzkdGz
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) August 28, 2017