February 13. 2018 8:51PM

EPA's Scott Pruitt flies 1st class to talk Superfund in NH

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader


EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks with the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, left, meets with editors and reporters at the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)


EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made several stops in the Manchester-Nashua area during a day trip to New Hampshire on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)


MANCHESTER — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said security decisions made by others have dictated he fly first class or on military jets at taxpayer expense.

“Unfortunately, ... we’ve had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe,” Pruitt said during an interview at the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday.

“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” said Pruitt, who confirmed he flew first class from the Washington area to Boston to reach New Hampshire.

“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.”

The Washington Post reported that taxpayers funded at least $90,000 for Pruitt and his top aides to fly during one stretch last June. It included first-class seats and a ride on a military jet, the newspaper reported.

“I’m not involved in any of those decisions,” Pruitt said in his first interview since the report was published. “Those are all made by the (security) detail, the security assessment in addition to the chief of staff.”

Obama record questioned

Pruitt questioned what the Obama administration accomplished environmentally.

“Everybody looks at the past administration as being an environmental savior,” Pruitt said.

He said 40 percent of the country lived in areas that didn’t meet air quality standards — covering 120 million Americans.

“You had more sites on the Superfund list when they left office than when they came in,” Pruitt said. “Now, I just ask you, objectively: What did they do to improve the environment compared to what we’re doing?”

Pruitt said he wants to get Superfund sites cleaned up more quickly than past administrations.

Tom Irwin, vice president and New Hampshire director of the Conservation Law Foundation, said the Obama and Trump administrations differ on how they view science.

“I think it’s fair to say the current administration in many ways is outright abandoning science,” Irwin said.

Central Paper visit

Pruitt also met with Gov. Chris Sununu and visited Central Paper in Manchester Tuesday.

“We discussed wide-ranging issues facing New Hampshire, and it is critical that our priorities are heard,” the governor said in a statement. “I was pleased to hear the EPA agreed to expedite the bedrock water table testing to further ensure that the Seacoast’s drinking water has not been contaminated by the Coakley Landfill (in North Hampton).

“I am confident that the state, and our towns, will have a positive and productive relationship with the EPA moving forward,” Sununu said.

The governor also discussed eradicating lead poisoning in New Hampshire.

Licensed forester Charlie Niebling listened to Pruitt at Central Paper.

“I liked his matter-of-fact, no-BS approach to his responsibilities,” said Niebling, a partner in the consulting firm Innovative Natural Resource Solutions in Antrim. “I respect the importance of regulatory certainty for the business community.”

Working with industry

The White House plan to cut the EPA budget by 23 percent next fiscal year “cuts a swath through EPA’s personnel and programs in ways that are going to harm the public and public health in the long-term,” said Elgie Holstein, spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington.

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, recently said that Pruitt “only represents the special interests. He should be removed immediately,” according to media reports.

Asked about the comments, Pruitt said: “They just don’t know me.”

“When you look at having an objective, to having better management, oversight, outcomes with respect to Superfunds, how is that a political issue,” Pruitt said. “How is that a bad thing?”

Pruitt — who also visited the Mohawk Tannery Superfund site in Nashua — said he wants his agency to work with industry more than in prior years.

“I believe most states, most citizens, most companies, most industry want to protect the air they breathe, the water they drink, and why this agency, the EPA, or any agency would treat them as an adversary is wrong-headed,” Pruitt said.

“We will prosecute bad actors and we have already with the Department of Justice,” he said.

“But here’s the issue: Why do you start from a premise that the industry and those folks are bad actors and not partners to begin with? That’s how you reach bad outcomes as opposed to good outcomes.”

Irwin said Pruitt’s comments were based on “the false assumption this is about attacking certain industries” versus protecting the environment.

PFOA concerns

Pruitt said more work needs to be done to clean up higher-than-allowed levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and/or perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) found around Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics site in Merrimack and the Coakley Landfill.

“It is a major concern — a major concern for me, a major concern for the agency,” Pruitt said.

An EPA health advisory dated November 2016 said studies on animals showed that exposure above certain levels “may result in adverse health effects,” including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy as well as certain cancers.

mcousineau@unionleader.com