EPA Head Scott Pruitt Has a 'Blanket Waiver' to Fly First Class
"Due to security concerns he has a blanket waiver to fly in first or business class," an EPA spokesman told CBS News. When he travels, the agency follows "the recommendations of security personnel."
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that during a two-week stretch in June, President Trump's EPA head racked up at least $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel. One of Pruitt's short domestic trips from Washington, DC to New York was booked first class for $1,600—six times the amount spent on the two media aides who came along and sat in coach.
Pruitt regularly flies first class and brings his infamous 24/7 security detail along with him. While the costs of their travel have not been made available, their salaries alone cost at least $2 million per year. No other administrator has needed 'round-the-clock security but Pruitt has reportedly received more death threats than any other EPA chief.
Federal regulations call for government travelers to "consider the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs" but can use first class for security or medical reasons.
Meanwhile, President Trump's latest budget proposal would slash EPA funding to its lowest level since 1990. As House Democrats noted in a tweet, "The Trump administration wants to cut EPA's budget by 34 percent, including cuts to climate change initiatives and the Office of Science and Technology. But first-class flights apparently are a 'core activity' for Scott Pruitt."
The Trump administration wants to cut @EPA’s budget by 34%, including cuts to #ClimateChange initiatives and the Of… https://t.co/avjZVjoeUH— House Democrats (@House Democrats)1518473156.0
Previous EPA administrators usually refrained from such premium bookings. Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana also questioned Pruitt's expensive flights.
"I'm sure there's some situations in terms of security where an upgrade may be appropriate," Kennedy told CBS News. "But I think as a general rule, except for the president and the VP or if you're paying for it yourself, you ought to fly coach."
Pruitt confirmed to the New Hampshire Union Leader that he flew first class from the Washington metro area to Boston to reach New Hampshire on Tuesday.
He explained that the waivers for the more expensive flights were the result of security concerns.
"Unfortunately ... we've had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe," he told the newspaper.
"We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment," Pruitt continued. "We've reached the point where there's not much civility in the marketplace and it's created, you know, it's created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat."
"I'm not involved in any of those decisions" to fly first class, he said. "Those are all made by the (security) detail."
The Mission of Scott Pruitt: End the #EPA as We Know It https://t.co/iAxWupGNqa #ScottPruitt @350 @foe_us… https://t.co/fJFy8gz70y— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512761062.0
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>