Long-Embattled, Scott Pruitt Resigns as Head of EPA

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt appears before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies in Washington on May 16, 2018.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(CN) – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned Thursday, ending a tenure dogged by unrelenting controversies over his spending, ethics and management at the agency.

In a tweet, President Donald Trump said, “I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”

Andrew Wheeler, who the Senate confirmed in April to be deputy administrator at the EPA, will become acting administrator on Monday. Prior to his confirmation he worked as a lobbyist for the coal giant Murray Energy.

He is also a former chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, one of Capitol Hill’s most outspoken climate change deniers.

Of Wheeler, Trump said, “I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”

In his resignation letter, Pruitt said while he was honored to serve the president, “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

Pruitt’s resignation comes as he faces more than a dozen federal investigations by, among others, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Since the Senate confirmed him 52 to 46, mostly along party lines, in February 2017, Pruitt has repeatedly found himself in trouble over his spending of taxpayer money for expensive office retrofits, travel and security, allegations that he used government resources for his own and his wife’s personal gain, and his close relationships with lobbyists and the chieftains of many of the industries he was tasked to regulate.

Among the revelations that ultimately doomed him were news stories detailing how he paid just $50 for each night he spent at the Capitol Hill condo owned by Vicki Hart, whose husband, J. Steven Hart, was chairman of lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, how he spent $43,000 for a soundproof booth for his office, and $3.5 million on a round-the-clock security force.

The Government Accountability Office later ruled that the soundproof booth expenditure was illegal, because the EPA did not notify Congress that it would exceed a $5,000 cap on furnishing officials’ offices.

He also got into hot water by giving big raises last month two top aides after the White House refused to allow it.

Pruitt told lawmakers in April that he knew about the raises, but did not know his chief of staff would go around the White House to implement them.

The parade of scandals continued unabated throughout the spring, and included allegations that he used his EPA staff and security detail to run personal errands ranging from finding jobs for his wife, buying him snacks, and tracking down a pricey skin lotion he wanted from a Ritz-Carlton hotel.

But Pruitt was a lightning rod for environmentalists even before his scandals mounted. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he filed a number of lawsuits challenging Obama administration policies and the authority of the agency he’d eventually be tapped to lead.

Over the course of his 17 months in office, he has rolled back or completely scrapped the cornerstones of the Obama administration environmental and climate-change related policies including the Clean Power Plan, Clean Water Rule and eliminating rules and regulations for oil and natural gas companies.

Throughout it all, the White House stood by its EPA chief, defending him as an effective advocate for the president’s policies, but earlier this week came the first indication that Trump was wavering in his support.

During a gaggle with reporters on Tuesday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said “the president feels as though Scott Pruitt has done a really good job with deregulating the government, to allow for a thriving economy, that’s important to him, but these things matter to the president as well, and he’s looking into those.”

Predictably, environmentalists said Thursday they are delighted to see Pruitt go.

Typical was a statement from Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group an organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals.

“After 18 months of ethical scandals, profligate spending of taxpayer dollars and rollbacks of public health protections, Scott Pruitt has resigned as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He leaves a legacy as unquestionably the worst head of the agency in its 48-year history,” Cook said.

“He will forever be associated with extraordinary ethical corruption and the abuse of power for petty personal enrichments,” Cook continued. “Sadly, the ideological fervor with which Pruitt pursued the destruction of environmental regulations and the agency itself live on in the Trump administration. So while Pruitt is gone, and good riddance, our resistance to all he stood for will continue undiminished.”

Also picking up the “worst in history” theme, was Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who said in a statement, “Scott Pruitt was the worst EPA administrator in the history of the agency. Not only has he acted, time and time again, in an unethical manner, but he has led the agency in exactly the wrong direction.

“Instead of protecting our environment and combating climate change, he has worked to protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry and polluters all over the country. His resignation is a positive step forward for our country,” Sanders said.

On Twitter, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said “After so many ethical violations, it took far too long for Scott Pruitt to leave @EPA. Still, his ouster is welcome news for anyone who likes clean air, clean water & leaders more interested in public health rather than the bottom line of massive corporations & special interests.”

But perhaps the most succinct statement on Pruitt’s resignation came from Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washingtion.

“Good,” he said via Twitter.

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