The Environmental Protection Agency has released new details about Administrator Scott Pruitt‘s schedule in Morocco last year that show he was scheduled for only one meeting on the first day of the costly trip.
The new details about Pruitt’s schedule came in an updated response to a records request from ABC News and other news organizations on the Morocco trip, which generated controversy both about his spending habits and his justification for being there. Earlier this month, the EPA released the six-page schedule from Pruitt’s 47-hour North Africa trip with four pages blacked out.
On Friday, the EPA made public an unredacted version of the schedule after criticism from government watchdog groups about the agency’s lack of transparency.
The newly released version of the calendar showed the four previously blacked-out pages of his calendar did not include any additional meetings beyond those already released.
“The four-page redaction to the Morocco schedule is simply a calendar entry for a Senior Staff Meeting at EPA Headquarters in D.C., which the Administrator did not attend because he was in Morocco,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement Friday. “The entry includes all attendees invited to the meeting, which is the reason for the extensive redaction.”
Wilcox said Saturday that Pruitt originally had more meetings scheduled that first day in Morocco but his plans changed after weather delayed his flight out of Dulles International Airport on Dec. 9. He did not immediately respond to a request for details about those meetings.
“Due to snow in Washington, Administrator Pruitt’s outbound flight was delayed, he missed his connection in Paris, spent the night there and flew out the next morning,” Wilcox said in a statement.
The document release, however, did not address questions from Democratic lawmakers about the number and nature of Pruitt’s meetings.
“For a trip … that included at least 10 EPA staff, your official business consisted of one full working day, and two days each with one, one-hour meeting,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a top Democratic on the committee with oversight of EPA, wrote in recent letter to Pruitt.
Adam Marshall, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, told ABC News on Friday the EPA should not have blacked out the staff meeting in its initial response. The agency’s explanation for the redaction – citing it as part of its “deliberative process” privilege – was improper.
“There have certainly been lots of questions raised as to how the EPA is handling FOIA requests under the current administration and I think that this adds to that growing list of questions as to what is going on when it comes to EPA and FOIA,” he told ABC News.
The trip is already under review by the EPA’s inspector general as part of an ongoing audit of Pruitt’s travel costs. Multiple Democrats have asked for more information on what prompted the Morocco trip and what Pruitt discussed with Moroccan officials, including the ranking member of the Senate committee with oversight of EPA, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
In a letter to the EPA inspector general, Carper wrote that he was especially concerned that the EPA listed promoting U.S. exports of natural gas as one of the topics on the trip. Carper wrote in the letter that natural gas is not part of the agency’s mission “to protect human health and the environment.”
In response to questions about those allegations, an EPA spokesman told ABC News that two career EPA officials traveled with Pruitt on the trip, not only political staff, and that liquid natural gas was not the only topic on the agenda, as described in an EPA press release.
After spending time in Paris due to travel delays, Pruitt arrived in Rabat, Morocco, on Dec. 11, with one meeting listed on his schedule for that day. The next day he held several meetings and toured an energy park before traveling to Marrakesh and having breakfast with the director of the Moroccan renewable energy agency. He then flew back to Washington on December 13.
Congressional sources conservatively estimated the trip cost at least $40,000, including a first-class flight that cost nearly $17,000 for Pruitt alone. Federal guidelines allow officials to fly first-class on international trips but the expense caught the attention of investigators who were already looking into the cost of Pruitt’s international and domestic travel.
The EPA did not publicly announce the trip to Morocco ahead of time but said in a press release after the trip that Pruitt met with Moroccan leaders on U.S. environmental priorities, the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement, and the benefit of liquid natural gas imports for the country. Pruitt also toured a green energy facility during the visit.
The EPA’s inspector general agreed to review Pruitt’s personal travel this week, according to Whitehouse’s office, in addition to ongoing audits of the cost of his official travel and security detail.