Scott Pruitt, the cabinet officer charged with dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, generally travels first class to avoid people who say mean things to him at airports. This is costing American taxpayers a lot of money. It’s also insulating one more politician from the people he is supposed to represent.
For example, The Washington Post recently reported that we paid $1,641.43 to fly Pruitt from Washington, D.C. to New York City (about 200 miles) for a television interview praising President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
On a visit to New Hampshire last week, Pruitt defended his luxury travel, telling the Manchester Union Leader, “We live in a very toxic environment politically,” which is the first time he has been heard to say something negative about a “toxic environment.”
For example, the EPA’s criminal enforcement director told Politico that someone had approached Pruitt last fall at an Atlanta airport and said, “You’re f**king up the environment.” I would have used different language.
What’s odd, though, is that a self-styled Populist would fly first-class at all, since presumably that’s where all the environmental elitists sit – the residents of what Maine’s equally anti-environmental governor Paul LePage derisively calls “Volvo country.”
Linking environmental issues to an elite disconnected from the hard realities of working- and middle-class people has a long history in this country, and it has helped politicians brand the environmental movement as the enemy of jobs and prosperity. But we have never had someone appointed to run a federal agency with views so antithetical to its mission.
As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, often at the request of oil, gas and coal companies who helpfully provided the wording for his lawsuits. In his new job he has not only rolled back over a dozen regulations aimed at pollutants, but he has also proposed deep cuts to its enforcement branch – even as he has provided himself with 24-hour security and increased his security detail from 18 people to 30.
Pruitt argues that the EPA’s role should not just be to protect the environment but to promote the economy. If that is so, he should change both the agency’s name and its mission, which says simply: “Our mission is to protect human health and the environment.”
That’s your job, Mr. Pruitt, and you aren’t doing it very well.