EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in his office at the EPA headquarters in Washington on Oct. 25, 2017. Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in his office at the EPA headquarters in Washington on Oct. 25, 2017. Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

Pruitt is out, handing EPA reins to former coal lobbyist

Democrats and environmental groups decried his replacement as an apologist for the coal industry.

Bowing out after months of scandals, Scott Pruitt is turning the Environmental Protection Agency over to a far less flashy deputy who is expected to continue Pruitt’s rule-cutting, business-friendly ways as steward of the country’s environment.

With Pruitt’s departure, President Donald Trump lost an administrator many conservatives regarded as one of the more effective members of his Cabinet. But Pruitt had also been dogged for months by scandals that spawned more than a dozen federal and congressional investigations.

EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, will take the helm as acting administrator starting Monday.

“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda,” Trump tweeted Thursday in announcing Pruitt’s resignation.

Republicans say Wheeler is well-qualified to lead the EPA, having worked at the agency early in his career. He also was a top aide at the Senate Environment Committee before becoming a lobbyist nine years ago.

Democrats and environmental groups decried Wheeler as an apologist for the coal industry. He’s also a former top aide to GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who rejects mainstream climate science.

Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, one of the most relentless and vocal of Pruitt’s Democratic critics in Congress, said he expects more of the same with Wheeler as chief.

“Somebody that destructive, I think it’s good to have them go, no doubt about it,” Udall said of Pruitt in an interview. “But let’s not forget he was carrying out President Trump’s policies.”

The prospect of more EPA rollbacks even after Pruitt is gone is “really, really worrisome to me,” he said. “The head of the agency’s changed, but I don’t think there’s any indication that the acting administrator will do anything any different.”

Related: EPA chief: Carbon dioxide not primary cause of warming

Related:Trump pick to lead EPA has spotty state environmental record

Talking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump continued to praise his scandal-plagued EPA chief, saying there was “no final straw” and he had not asked for Pruitt’s resignation.

“Scott is a terrific guy,” Trump said. “He came to me and said I have such great confidence in the administration I don’t want to be a distraction. … He’ll go and do great things and have a wonderful life, I hope.”

In his resignation letter to Trump, obtained by The Associated Press, Pruitt expressed no regrets.

“It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring,” Pruitt wrote. “However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

Pruitt, a Republican, had appeared Wednesday at a White House picnic for Independence Day, wearing a red-checked shirt and loafers with gold trim. Trump gave him and other officials a brief shout-out, offering no sign of any immediate change in his job.

Pruitt’s resignation came days after two of his closest advisers spoke to House oversight committee investigators and revealed new, embarrassing details in ethics scandals involving Pruitt.

Samantha Dravis, who recently resigned as Pruitt’s policy chief, told investigators last week that Pruitt had made clear to her before and after he became EPA administrator that he would like the attorney general’s job, held then and now by Jeff Sessions.

Pruitt “had hinted at that (sic) some sort of conversation had taken place between he and the president,” Dravis told congressional investigators, according to a transcript obtained Thursday by the AP. “That was the position he was originally interested in.”

A former Oklahoma attorney general close to the oil and gas industry, Pruitt had filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the agency he was picked to lead. Arriving in Washington, he worked relentlessly to dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations that aimed to reduce toxic pollution and planet-warming carbon emissions.

During his less than two-year tenure, Pruitt crisscrossed the country at taxpayer expense to speak with industry groups and hobnob with GOP donors, but he showed little interest in listening to advocates he derided as “the environmental left.” Those groups quickly applauded his departure.

“Despite his brief tenure, Pruitt was the worst EPA chief in history,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “His corruption was his downfall, but his pro-polluter policies will have our kids breathing dirtier air long after his many scandals are forgotten.”

Like Trump, Pruitt voiced skepticism about mainstream climate science and was a fierce critic of the Paris climate agreement. The president cheered his EPA chief’s moves to boost fossil fuel production and roll back regulations opposed by corporate interests.

But despite boasts of slashing red tape and promoting job creation, Pruitt had a mixed record of producing real-world results. Many of the EPA regulations Pruitt scraped or delayed had not yet taken effect, and the tens of thousands of lost coal mining jobs the president pledged to bring back never materialized.

Pruitt quit following a series of revelations involving pricey trips with first-class airline seats and unusual security spending, including a $43,000 soundproof booth for making private phone calls. He also demanded 24-hour-a-day protection from armed officers, resulting in a swollen 20-member security detail that blew through overtime budgets and racked up expenses of more than $3 million.

Pruitt routinely ordered his EPA staff to do personal chores for him, including picking up his dry cleaning and trying to obtain a used Trump hotel mattress for his apartment. He had also enlisted his staff to contact conservative groups and companies to find a lucrative job for his unemployed wife, including emails seeking a Chick-fil-A franchise from a senior executive at the fast-food chain.

Pruitt’s job had appeared in jeopardy since the end of March, when ABC News first reported that he leased a Capitol Hill condo last year for just $50 a night. It was co-owned by the wife of a veteran fossil fuels lobbyist whose firm had sought regulatory rollbacks from EPA.

The slew of damaging revelations, many of which came to light through media reports and public records lawsuits filed by environmental groups, triggered more than a dozen investigations related to Pruitt’s conduct by EPA’s Office of Inspector General, the House Oversight Committee and other federal watchdogs.

It was not immediately clear how Pruitt’s resignation might affect those ongoing probes. No longer a federal employee, Pruitt can’t be compelled to speak or otherwise co-operate with the inspector general’s investigation. As a private citizen, he could still be subpoenaed to testify before Congress, but Republican-led committees have thus far shown little appetite in forcing him to do so.

Jennifer Kaplan, a spokeswoman for EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins, said Thursday that the office was “assessing and evaluating” its ongoing audits and investigations in the wake of Pruitt’s departure.

People in Pruitt’s home state differed on whether the ethics scandals in Washington left him with any prospects of a political second life in Oklahoma.

Ethical charges aside, many Republicans in oil-and-gas dependent Oklahoma are focused more on what they consider his regulation-trimming accomplishments at the EPA, said Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Pam Pollard.

“We’re proud of him for that,” Pollard said. “I think Oklahomans still love him, support him and trust him. We’ll give him the opportunity to tell his side of the story.”

Sen. John Barrasso, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and until Thursday a strong defender of Pruitt, said Trump made the right decision to accept the resignation.

“It has become increasingly challenging for the EPA to carry out its mission with the administrator under investigation,” said Barrasso, who is from Wyoming.

Pruitt is the latest Trump Cabinet official to lose his job over ethics issues. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was fired in March amid questionable travel charges and a growing rebellion in his agency about the privatization of medical care. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was fired last year after it was disclosed he took costly charter flights instead of commercial planes.

___

Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

___

Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller And Michael Biesecker, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The board of directors of Glen Arbor are applying for funding to build an addition of 21 units. (Monica Lamb-Yorski file photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake city council endorses 21-unit expansion of Glen Arbor

The board of directors requested a letter of support for a funding application

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

(Photo submitted)
MISSING: Alexis Creek RCMP request help in finding Randolph Quilt, 59

Quilt hasn’t been heard from by family since Sept. 26, last seen in Williams Lake

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson (right) with his partner Shelley Wiese participated in an BC Liberals Caucus virtual oath ceremony Friday, Nov. 27. Doerkson was appointed opposition critic of rural development by interim leader Shirley Bond. (Photo submitted)
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA appointed rural development opposition critic

Newly-elected Lorne Doerkson said it will be an honour to work for all rural consituents

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

(Needpix.com)
Fraudsters projected to use pet scams to gouge over $3M from customers: BBB

The pandemic heavily contributed to the number of puppy scams

Most Read