Environmental Protection Agency chief and climate change denier Scott Pruitt, who has drawn increasing amounts of ire this month over stretches of extremely expensive, often first-class travel that he’s justified on dubious security grounds, will no longer go on a five-day trip to Israel.
Per the Washington Post, which originally broke the news of Pruitt’s minimum of $90,000 in taxpayer-funded upscale travel, EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the paper on Sunday via email that “We decided to postpone; the administrator looks forward to going in the future.”
The paper reported Pruitt and support staff from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv were originally scheduled to stay at the Jerusalem-based King David Hotel for the duration of the trip, which would involve tours of a water recycling facility and a toxic waste site, as well as meetings with Israeli public and private sector officials:
Israeli officials confirmed that Pruitt’s trip was official state business but could not say if the usual visits had been scheduled. He had been slated to meet with Israel’s Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, but the office of the Israeli minister, a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, confirmed that the meeting had been canceled.
Neither the U.S. embassy in Israel nor the Israeli Foreign Ministry would comment on Pruitt’s change in plans.
In a prior interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Pruitt claimed that the “very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment” necessitated the pricey flights. He also claimed security staff, not him, had made those travel arrangements in the interests of his own safety.
But prior EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman and members of Congress have repeatedly questioned Pruitt’s security measures, which included hiring a dozen new guards at a reported cost of $103,000-$162,000 salary apiece and biometric locks for his office. According to a recent report in Politico, EPA Office of Criminal Enforcement director Henry Barnet explained the motivating factor may not have been death threats, but people who had been approaching Pruitt in airports “being extremely rude, using profanities and potential for altercations and so forth.” Barnet added one incident included a man who yelled “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment,’ those sort of terms.”
Whether the cancellation of the trip signals larger problems ahead for Pruitt than getting yelled at by angry people in the airport remains to be seen. Health and Human Services chief Tom Price resigned in 2017 after running up over $400,000 in flight costs. But EPA officials have changed their explanations of how the expenditures were justified under federal law, and the EPA’s inspector general’s office wrote an ongoing investigation into the matter would only examine charges racked up in 2017, per Politico.