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"A Slap in the Face": Victims of Big Oil Pollution Speak Out Against Pruitt's Luxury Flights

"If he is putting people's lives in danger and that is making them angry, maybe he should face that."

Environmental activists protest outside of the Harvard Club where Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt was scheduled to speak, June 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

After the public was informed last week that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt has been forced to take luxury first-class flights because people were yelling at him for destroying the planet in coach, few expressed sympathy.

"I wish that I could get away like that from my situation, but I don't get a day off from living this nightmare."
—Amy Brown

But those who live in heavily polluted areas are particularly appalled by the EPA head's "hollow" excuse, because while Pruitt can run to the front of the plane to evade criticism, families throughout the nation can't escape their toxic communities—which will likely be made worse by President Donald Trump's pro-fossil fuel agenda.

"It's so insulting and a slap in the face, that he is above sitting with people who have questions, who might be the people who have been affected by his decisions," Amy Brown, a North Carolina mother whose water is under threat from a nearby coal ash pit, told ThinkProgress in an interview. "I wish that I could get away like that from my situation, but I don't get a day off from living this nightmare."

This sentiment was echoed by several Americans who live in areas that have been heavily exploited by Big Oil. Speaking to ThinkProgress, they expressed disgust that Pruitt is hiding from public scrutiny while actively working to undermine public health and safety.

Alden Cleanthes, a Virginia father whose son suffered from pancreatitis that was likely caused by water pollution, tore into the EPA's claim that Pruitt has to fly first class for "security" reasons.

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"Is he afraid for his life when he sits in coach? Because I'm afraid for my life every time I think about whether the water is dirty and is going to make my son sick," Cleanthes said.

Pruitt has been intensely criticized by environmental and ethics advocates since the Washington Post revealed that the EPA chief spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on luxury travel during his first year in office. The EPA later told the press that Pruitt flies first-class to avoid people who tell him, for instance, that he is "f***ing up the environment."

As Common Dreams reported on Sunday, Pruitt was forced to cancel a planned trip to Israel as advocacy groups called for his ouster.

In policy terms, Pruitt has moved at breakneck speed to dismantle environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration. As ThinkProgress points out, the EPA under Pruitt's leadership has also been far more lax with regard to enforcement.

According to an analysis (pdf) by the Environmental Integrity Project, environmental enforcement under Pruitt is 44 percent lower than it was under his predecessors.

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