On Thursday President Donald Trump made the announcement via Twitter that he had accepted the resignation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief Scott Pruitt. Trump praised Pruitt for his service and also announced that E.P.A. deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler will assume the role of acting E.P.A. chief.
Pruit’s tenure as head of the E.P.A. began in February of 2017 and almost immediately was plagued in controversy and scandal. Prior to heading the EPA, Pruitt had sued the E.P.A. at least 14 times as the attorney general of Oklahoma. Many saw his nomination as an effort to dismantle the EPA, but Pruitt was ultimately confirmed by a 52-46 Senate vote.
As attorney general of Oklahoma Pruit had also reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from various organizations tied to the fossil fuel industry. During Pruitt’s confirmation hearing, a letter from members of the Senate’s environmental panel was sent to the Office of Government Ethics regarding Pruitt’s nomination.
“During his tenure as Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has blurred the distinction between official and political actions, often at the behest of corporations he will regulate if confirmed to lead EPA,” the letter said. “Public reporting based on documents produced by Freedom of Infomation Act requests illustrate how Mr. Pruitt and members of his staff have worked closely with fossil fuel lobbyists to craft his office’s official positions.”
Scandal Plagues Pruitt’s Tenure as EPA Head
As head of the E.P.A. Pruitt attracted media attention for his apparent tendency to use his position at the E.P.A. for personal gain and his schedule of lavish trips around the world, first-class flights and luxury hotels.
The Washington Post reported in February that Pruitt had an extensive travel schedule, but unlike his predecessors at the E.P.A. he consistently flew business or first class. Pruitt also used military planes; in one example Pruitt and his crew flew from Cincinnati to New York City on a military jet at the cost of $36,068.50.
According to the Post report, federal regulations state that government travelers are required to “exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business . . . and therefore, should consider the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs.” Agencies are allowed to authorize first-class travel in rare instances, such as a flight of 14 hours or more, a medical disability or when “exceptional security circumstances” mean “use of coach class accommodations would endanger your life or government property.”
In June it was also revealed that Pruitt used his E.P.A. position to set up business opportunities for his family. Pruitt’s assistant sent an email to the C.E.O. of fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, about “a potential business opportunity” for his wife. Pruitt also contacted the head of a major NY non-profit, Concordia, about hiring his wife and reached out to other top Republican donors for the same.
Last March, reports came out that Pruitt had leased a townhouse from a lobbyist couple in Washington D.C. for $50 a night which is a rate under market value. The couple who leased the condominium to Pruitt were registered lobbyists for clients regulated by the EPA. One of the clients was a company called Enbridge, which the E.P.A. then later approved a plan for Enbridge to expand a pipeline carrying oil into the U.S.
As of Pruitt’s resignation, there were 13 inquiries into his spending and management practices at the E.P.A., according to the New York Times. The Times published a guide to the inquiries, which include an inquiry into a $43,000 secure phone booth that Pruitt had constructed to provide him with a secure line for classified conversations.
Environmental Organizations Celebrate, But Wary of Pruitt’s Replacement
The National Resources Defense Council (N.R.D.C.) called Pruitt’s resignation the ending of the “worst era in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s history so far.”
Save the U.S. EPA released a statement saying, “Pruitt’s so-called leadership gave hazardous land and toxic chemicals a free pass to imperil Americans. Pruitt was the steadfast ally and champion of big polluting industries and he was the architect of unrelenting hostility toward federal, professional scientists, engineers all other EPA employees. Pruitt was the antithesis of an environmental steward.”
But both organizations, like many other environmental organizations, cautioned that the “proverbial fox hasn’t left the henhouse” as Save the U.S. EPA put it.
Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler, is a formal coal lobbyist. In an N.R.D.C. profile of Wheeler, it stated that Wheeler was the vice president of the Washington Coal Club. Wheeler also worked as an aide to notorious climate change deniers and lobbied for the Murray Energy Corporation, which calls itself the largest coal mining company in the U.S.
Learn more about Andrew Wheeler, the former coal-industry lobbyist that will be taking Pruitt's place: https://t.co/UWhP883eL6
— NRDC ? (@NRDC) July 5, 2018