Republicans block Democratic bid to halt Pruitt's first-class flights

- Maret 07, 2018

A congressional debate over brick kiln and wood heater emissions rules turned into a referendum on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s penchant for pricey plane travel.

Ultimately, House Republicans rejected a proposal today from Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) to bar Pruitt from flying first-class, calling it a purely political tactic that was unrelated to the underlying legislation.

Castor’s surprise effort came amid what was an otherwise routine debate over a bill that would delay EPA air emissions rules for brick manufacturing facilities until legal challenges have played out. Her motion to recommit and send the bill back to the committee with the Pruitt travel language failed by a 186-227 vote.

“There’s no adequate justification for this wasteful spending and abuse of power by Scott Pruitt, and if he enjoys flying first-class and staying in luxury hotels, then he should pay for it himself and not ask taxpayers to foot the bill,” Castor said on the floor.

John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee, criticized Castor’s amendment in response.

“I don’t think we build and use bricks to make our airplanes, and I don’t think we power our planes with wood heaters,” Shimkus said. “It’s just purely politics, and it’s not surprising. Why? Democrats want to distort us from the economic success of the Republican agenda.”

Pruitt has faced scrutiny from members of both parties over his first-class air travel, which the agency said was deemed necessary because of security threats. House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked for information about his habits in late February, while others in his own party have urged him to fly coach.

Bowing to public pressure, Pruitt said last week he’d start flying coach at least part of the time.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this week that Pruitt's travel, as well as that of VA Secretary David Shulkin and the spending habits of HUD Secretary Ben Carson, was "under review" without providing further details.

The underlying bill from Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), the Blocking Regulatory Interference from Closing Kilns Act, ultimately passed 234-180. Similar legislation cleared the House back in March 2016 but it never moved in the Senate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments on challenges to the EPA regulation November.

Congressional Republicans and industry groups argue implementing the 2015 standards before litigation ends would force them to potentially spend millions in compliance costs that might put smaller manufacturers out of business. Environmental groups said the measure would delay public health protections indefinitely, exposing citizens to additional harmful air pollution.

Lawmakers also included language in the bill delaying the compliance date for phase two of new emissions standards for residential wood heaters by three years.


 

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