EPA chief Scott Pruitt defends Italy trip after increased scrutiny of travel costs

PHOTO: Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt prepares to pose for a group photo during the G7 Environment summit, June 11, 2017, in Bologna, Italy.PlayAlberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH EPA chief under fire for his expensive travel tastes

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed back against criticism of his Italy trip in a radio interview on Thursday.

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Pruitt said he took official meetings during the entire four-day trip to Italy for the G-7 environmental summit in June of last year.

"These are very important meetings that take place, it's an obligation I have to participate and so I'm a little bit dumbfounded by the kind of media narrative that these things are somehow not the focus, they've always been the focus," Pruitt told a host on CBS Radio in St. Louis on Thursday.

Documents released earlier this week show that the cost of the trip was $30,000 more than previously reported, bringing the total to around $120,000. An EPA document showed that the cost of travel for Pruitt's security detail was $30,559 the week of the trip.

Previously released travel documents show that the EPA paid almost $90,000 for Pruitt and his staff to travel to Italy for meetings around the summit. The cost includes $36,000 for Pruitt and his staff to take a military jet from Cincinnati to New York so he could make his flight to Rome. The military flight was requested by the White House so Pruitt could join President Donald Trump at an event in Cincinnati, according to an ethics waiver.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group the Environmental Integrity Project obtained both sets of documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent lawsuit, which were reviewed by ABC News.

ABC News has exclusively obtained a photo of Pruitt disembarking a military jet at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport in June 2017.

PHOTO: A photo obtained by ABC News shows EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt deplaning a military-owned plane in June 2017 at New Yorks John F. Kennedy International Airport. Obtained by ABC News
A photo obtained by ABC News shows EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt deplaning a military-owned plane in June 2017 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Pruitt's publicly posted schedule showed that during the four-day trip to Italy he attended meetings at the U.S. embassy, the Vatican and the other G-7 countries' environmental ministers. But he did leave the G7 after the first day.

A more detailed version of his schedule obtained by the Project on Government Oversight redacts details about his meetings but does confirm that he flew United Arab Emirates on his way back from Milan.

He also posted on Twitter pictures during the trip from the Vatican where he said he met with the Vatican environmental minister and made pasta with the Italian environmental minister.

After the meetings and the first day of the summit, Pruitt returned to Washington, D.C., to attend a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy also had a meeting with the Vatican in 2015, according to remarks on the EPA website. Pruitt also said that the Canadian environmental minister met with them during the G-7.

"This was a four-day exercise of focused efforts on decisions the United States had made on an international agreement that had a significant impact on this country," Pruitt said in the interview Thursday.

Audio of the KMOX interview was provided to ABC News by the Sierra Club.

The cost of Pruitt's travel for all of last year is under investigation by the EPA inspector general. The EPA has previously confirmed that Pruitt and his security detail fly first class for security reasons, citing the need to evacuate him quickly in the case of a threat.