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Scott Pruitt’s trip to Silverton among questioned costs

EPA head took chartered flight from Denver to Durango on taxpayers’ dime
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is catching flak for his travel expenses, including a $5,719.58 flight from Denver to Durango in August to tour the Gold King Mine north of Silverton.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is taking heat this week for allegedly spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, and that includes spending $5,719.58 on a chartered flight last month from Denver to Durango.

Multiple news reports have turned the spotlight on Pruitt’s spending habits, while at the same time, he calls for sweeping budget cuts to the EPA. President Donald Trump appointed Pruitt earlier this year.

Over the past few days, critics have called out Pruitt’s spending on an unprecedented 24/7 cadre of security agents for personal protection, a nearly $25,000 soundproof booth for him to make private phone calls and a growing tab for noncommercial airfare.

According to reports by CBS and The Washington Post, Pruitt’s non-commercial airfare has cost more than $58,000 since he took the job seven months ago, which includes a $36,068.50 flight on a military jet to meet Trump in Cincinnati.

On Aug. 4, Pruitt was scheduled to visit the Gold King Mine, about 10 miles north of Silverton, with a select number of elected officials, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton, among others.

The event was held nearly two years after an EPA-contracted crew released 3 million gallons of mine wastewater from the Gold King Mine, polluting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Pruitt’s critics say he could have avoided the $5,719.58 tab for the flight from Denver to Durango by agreeing to fly with Hickenlooper, who offered the EPA administrator a seat on his plane.

“I can confirm staff offered him a ride, and they declined,” Jacque Montgomery, the governor’s spokeswoman, told The Denver Post.

But according to an EPA spokeswoman, Hickenlooper’s flight had room for only Pruitt and three staff members. Plus, the EPA had already booked a private flight when the offer was extended.

“After our commercial flight was significantly delayed (over 5 hours), it would have been impossible to make it to the important Gold King Mine visit with a bipartisan group of elected officials waiting for (Pruitt),” the EPA told The Denver Post.

The Washington Post reported the charter company involved, Mayo Aviation, bills itself as “Colorado’s premier jet charter service.”

According to Durango City Councilor Dick White, who attended the Silverton event, the meeting at the portal of the Gold King Mine lasted less than an hour.

The meeting, closed to media, generally encouraged local officials that the cleanup of the site near Silverton, called the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund, would be a top priority.

“At least the good news is the administrator showed up and brought some senior staff people, and to some extent, he listened,” White said. “Pruitt basically said it was a priority, but where that fits in the grander scheme of cutting EPA funding is a little unclear.”

The meeting also caught flak for its short-lived, photo-op nature, earning a mention in San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad’s blotter column published Aug. 10 in the Silverton Standard & the Miner.

“The informative tour was cut short in order to spend that much time again patting each other on the back in front of the portal, which was in front of the cameras,” Conrad wrote. “How about next time I send you guys Photoshop, and we can skip the on-site photo op. The cost to the taxpayer for such a display is a disgrace, and all those cops have real jobs to do.”

Pruitt was also criticized for not attending a town hall meeting held later that day in Durango.

“He should have been here,” Gardner, a Republican, told the audience.

Trump has not commented on Pruitt’s spending habits. In a similar circumstance, Trump said he was “not happy” about Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s taxpayer-funded travel on private jets.

In the wake of the Gold King Mine spill, then-EPA administrator Gina McCarthy made a trip to Durango, but she did not tour the mine or visit Silverton. Her only public appearance was a 15-minute news conference held at the La Plata County Fairgrounds in Durango.

It was not immediately known Thursday how much McCarthy’s trip cost.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

Poll: Was it wrong for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to take a chartered flight to visit the Superfund site outside of Silverton?

Yes - 1102 - 71.6%

No - 437 - 28.4%

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