By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's private security detail accompanied him on first-class flights, the agency confirmed on Wednesday to U.S. House Democrats, who requested details on his travels amid growing scrutiny of Cabinet members' spending.
Democrats on the House of Representatives Energy Committee - Frank Pallone, Diana DeGette and Paul Tonko - received confirmation in a letter from EPA Associate Administrator Troy Lyons that Pruitt's security team had accompanied him in premium airplane seats because of security threats.
The EPA was responding to a Feb. 20 letter from the Democratic lawmakers asking for details about the use by Pruitt and his staff of first-class air travel.
The agency's "Protective Service Detail has identified specific, ongoing threats associated with the Administrator's air travel and, therefore, shifted his class based on certain security protocols that require him to be near the front of the plane," Lyons wrote to the lawmakers in a letter they published on Wednesday.
The letter said that the agency's assistant inspector general determined Pruitt had "significantly more threats" directed against him than previous EPA administrators.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the travel adhered to federal protocols applied to this and previous presidential administrations.
“Security decisions are made by EPA’s Protective Service Detail and are similar to security protocol across the federal government,” he said in a statement.
The lawmakers said they were concerned about the price taxpayers were forced to pay to accommodate Pruitt and his guard's first-class travel, as reports emerge surrounding his travel records from last year.
On Tuesday, newly released documents revealed Pruitt's $80,000 trip to Italy last summer for the G-20 summit entailed$30,000 in spending on personal security. [L1N1R217O]
Another batch of travel expenses requested by Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy and obtained by the Washington Post showed he spent $68,000 on hotel stays and air travel on first-class and domestic flights from August 2017 through February 2018.
“What is clear is that while he [Pruitt] makes extreme cuts to critical public health and environmental protection programs, the Administrator has taken a holiday from all fiscal responsibility when it comes to his own travel and personal convenience," the lawmakers said in a statement.
The Democrats plan to press Pruitt on his spending at an energy panel hearing next month.
Other Cabinet secretaries, including Ben Carson, secretary of the Housing and Urban Development agency, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have faced scrutiny because of reports of lavish spending on office furniture, as well as the use of private jets.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Cooney)