Transition or tropics? EPA chief looks at final trips abroad

·2 min read

After months of travel to battleground states before Election Day, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency now is looking at taxpayer-funded trips abroad, including the tropics, in the Trump administration's last weeks.

Administrator Andrew Wheeler had been invited next month to Taiwan, a trip with an estimated cost of $45,000, EPA spokesman James Hewitt said Thursday.

“Administrator Wheeler remains head of the agency and will continue to advance environmental progress both here and abroad,” Hewitt said.

The New York Times, which first reported Wheeler’s travel plans, said Wheeler and other EPA officials were expected to travel by chartered flight to minimize exposure to the coronavirus.

The newspaper cited EPA aides as saying they had also been instructed to make travel plans for Wheeler to Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic in January.

Hewitt said Wheeler had been invited to Taiwan to collaborate on issues related to ocean pollution as well as air quality and children’s health. Logistics still were being worked out on that trip, he said. “Nothing has yet been scheduled” on a Latin America trip, he said.

The trips evoke memories of Wheeler's predecessor at the Trump EPA, Scott Pruitt, whose heavy use of first-class travel and other perks of office grew into scandals leading to Pruitt's resignation in 2018.

Up until the Nov. 3 elections, Wheeler was one of the most active of several Cabinet-level chiefs travelling frequently to battleground states to talk up Trump's performance in office.

President-elect Joe Biden’s administration is due to take office Jan. 20. Hewitt, the EPA spokesman, did not immediately respond to a question asking whether Wheeler was doing any planning to help the agency transition from one administration to the next.

Trump so far has failed to acknowledge his election defeat, and continues to make unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press