As picked up by the Washington Post earlier this month, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, regularly flies first class when engaging in official business – even if, much of the time, the details of what that business entails, and where it’s happening and why, remain decidedly elusive.
In the ensuing days, the EPA has struggled to get its story straight as to why his travel habits are so unusually expensive, and although mutterings of personal safety have arisen, Politico’s questioning has finally gotten a more detailed reason out of the agency.
According to Henry Barnet, director of the agency's Office of Criminal Enforcement, it’s because he’s hoping to avoid angry heckles from members of the public aggrieved by his work helming the EPA.
One example cited to sum up the kinds of interactions they’re referring to dates back to October, when someone at an airport in Atlanta came up the EPA chief and yelled: “Scott Pruitt, you’re fucking up the environment!”
His security detail suggested that “it would be better suited to have him in business or first class, away from close proximity from those individuals who were approaching him and being extremely rude, using profanities and potential for altercations and so forth,” Barnet told Politico.
Regardless of what you think about how such protestations are being delivered, it’s easy to understand why people are so vexed.
Scientific advisors at the EPA are being shown the door just as coal and petrochemical lobbyists are taking on or are set to take on prominent positions. Climate research is targeted for defunding, environmental regulations are being rolled back, and Pruitt himself is constantly prevaricating about the extent to which climate change is happening, is attributable to us, and is dangerous.
Betsy Southerland, the former director of science and technology at the EPA’s Office of Water, told IFLScience shortly after she resigned: “I really felt there was a clear and present danger to public health and safety by this administration.”
While all this is going on, reports have come out highlighting Pruitt’s wasteful spending of taxpayer’s money, on soundproof booths and first-class flights, to name a few examples. There’s also a distinct lack of transparency as to why such funds are being used in this way.
The Huffington Post, meanwhile, has pointed out that government employees are mandated to travel as cheaply as possible, but first class is available for security concerns. At the same time, plenty of aviation experts have argued that being in first class is no safer than being in coach – and besides, does being yelled at really constitute a security threat?