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WASHINGTON — Federal investigators concluded in a report Thursday that Scott Pruitt had spent nearly $124,000 on “excessive” travel arrangements as head of the Environmental Protection Agency and recommended that the agency try to recover the money.
The report, issued by the E.P.A.’s inspector general, brings to a close a nearly two-year investigation into Mr. Pruitt’s travel. It found that 40 trips or planned trips that were later canceled during 10 months starting in March 2017, the time frame of the investigation, had cost taxpayers a total of more than $985,000.
About 82 percent of that was for first-class and business-class airfare, and 16 of the trips involved stops in Tulsa, Okla., where Mr. Pruitt owned a home. The expenses also included a $629-per-night hotel room in Italy. Many of the trips were approved by agency officials retroactively after Mr. Pruitt’s travel.
Of the total cost, inspectors concluded that $123,942 had been spent “without sufficient justification and, initially, without appropriate approval authority.”
The investigation was one of more than a dozen into the former administrator’s conduct at the agency before he resigned in July amid ethics questions about his round-the-clock security and the pay raises given to select aides. He was also under scrutiny for renting a condominium at $50 a night from the wife of a lobbyist with business before the agency.
In a statement, the E.P.A. said it would not seek to recover any travel costs. It described the expenses in question as “valid” and properly justified, and added that the agency had since adopted new rules for approving travel.
“E.P.A. believes that the trips were authorized by an appropriate official, making cost recovery inappropriate,” an agency spokesman wrote. The inspector general’s office cannot compel the agency to pursue Mr. Pruitt to recover the funds.
Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer for Mr. Pruitt, said in a separate statement that the former administrator had at all times “followed the procedures and processes dictated by the E.P.A. travel office as well as the E.P.A. general counsel’s office.” She called the decision not to recover costs appropriate.
When Mr. Pruitt was in office, his aides said the first-class travel was a necessary security measure. But the investigation found that the documents that granted Mr. Pruitt permission to travel first class had not been properly approved and were “without appropriate justification to support E.P.A.’s allegation that the former administrator’s life was endangered when flying coach class,” said John Trefry, associate director for forensic audits at the E.P.A. inspector general’s office.
On Thursday, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the E.P.A., and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, called on the agency to overturn the retroactive approvals of Mr. Pruitt’s travel and recover the costs.
“Resigning in disgrace shouldn’t let you off the hook for unprecedented unethical behavior,” the senators said in a joint statement.
The report cleared Mr. Pruitt and the E.P.A. in a related matter, the use of chartered and military flights. Investigators said travel costs of $101,761 for three military and two charter flights had been “justified and approved in accordance with regulations.”
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Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman
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