Cabinet officials probably hoped that the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Friday would end the scandal over how they’re using government resources. But a new report from the New York Times sheds some light on the meetings that have Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt flying around the country, and whom he might be chatting with in the $25,000 soundproof phone booth he had installed in his office.
A 320-page rundown of Pruitt’s schedule during his first four months in office, which was unearthed via a records request from the liberal nonprofit American Oversight, reveals that Pruitt spends most of his time meeting with industry executives and lobbyists, but rarely sits down with environmental groups, consumer advocates, or public-health advocates. Per the Times:
In just the first 15 days of May, Mr. Pruitt met with the chief executive of the Chemours Company, a leading chemical maker, as well as three chemical lobbying groups; the egg producers lobby; the president of Shell Oil Company; the chief executive of Southern Company; lobbyists for the farm bureau, the toy association and a cement association; the president of a truck equipment manufacturer seeking to roll back emissions regulations for trucks; and the president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
The agency defended Pruitt’s lopsided schedule in a statement, saying, “As EPA has been the poster child for regulatory overreach, the agency is now meeting with those ignored by the Obama administration.” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman added that people in the agency had met with more than two dozen health and environmental groups in recent months — but she would not say which officials talked with them.
The paper examined the schedule of Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, and it did show some political bias. The Obama appointee held far more meetings with Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups, but she met with industry representatives as well. She also had many more meetings with other government officials to discuss federal policies and programs.
The schedule also raises more questions about taxpayer-funded travel. It was reported last week that Pruitt spent $58,219.19 in taxpayer funds on four military and private flights between February and August, which seems minor compared to Price’s 24-plus private charter flights. But Pruitt had a curious number of trips that kept him in his home state of Oklahoma for long weekends, though he only had a small bit of business. For example:
A trip to Oklahoma on May 5, which cost $1,043, was justified by the E.P.A. as an “informational meeting.” It consisted of a one-hour sit-down that Friday with Sam Wade, the chief executive of the National Rural Water Association, then a return flight to Washington the following Monday.
The EPA inspector general is already looking into “the frequency, cost and extent of the administrator’s travel that included trips to Oklahoma” after receiving a hotline complaint. But somehow we doubt anyone in Trump’s cabinet is going to get in trouble for preferring to spend the weekend at their properties outside of D.C.