Under mounting pressure from ethics-related scandals, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, submitted his letter of resignation to US President Donald Trump on Thursday. Gage Skidmore photo.
Scott Pruitt instrumental in lobbying President Trump to abandon Paris Accord
On Thursday, Scott Pruitt submitted his resignation to US President Donald Trump. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency was mired in ethics-related scandals since the beginning of his tenure with the Trump administration.
In a Cabinet rife with scandal, Pruitt was one of Trump’s most polarizing secretaries. He rolled back regulations on energy and manufacturing industries and moved to repeal former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
As well, Pruitt lobbied Trump hard to walk away from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, another Obama climate action legacy.
In recent months, Pruitt’s scandals included first-class travel at taxpayer expense, unsparing security costs, a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for his office and accusations that he used his position to secure favours like cheap rent on a high-end condo and a Chik-fil-A franchise for his wife.
In his resignation letter, Pruitt said “The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us”.
On Thursday afternoon, Trump announced the resignation via Twitter. “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.”
EPA Deputy Administration Andrew Wheeler has been named the the agency’s acting chief. Wheeler is a former coal mining industry lobbyist who is expected to continue to roll back regulations.
In the past, Wheeler worked as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, the largest underground coal mining company in the United States, and for climate skeptic Senator Jim Inhofe on efforts to combat climate legislation.
Reuters reports that in a message to EPA employees, Wheeler said he as “both humbled and honoured” to lead the embattled agency.
“I look forward to working hard alongside all of you to continue our collective goal of protecting public health and the environment on behalf of the American people,” he said.
Pruitt opponents, including Democrats and environmental advocacy groups, cheered the Secretary’s departure.
Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly said “Scott Pruitt’s reign of venality is finally over. He made swamp creatures blush with his shameless excesses. All tolerated because Trump liked his zealotry. Shame”.
Pruitt was labelled “unquestionably the worst head of the agency in its 48-year history” by the Environmental Working Group, a public health and environment watchdog.
Some Republican lawmakers, including Chuck Grassley, said Trump made the “right decision” in accepting Pruitt’s resignation. Iowa’s Grassley and Pruitt sparred over the former Secretary’s efforts to overhaul the US policy that required biofuels, like corn-based ethanol in gasoline.
Matt Dempsey, energy lobbyist at consultancy FTI, told Reuters that Wheeler will not be as controversial as Pruitt, but will not alter the current agenda.
“He will be less political and more straightforward in his approach to the job, which is better for the Trump administration agenda in the long run. The politics will pass but the policy will remain,” Dempsey said.
According to a Reuters’ source close to Trump, the final straw for the US President was Pruitt’s purchase of a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel. According to the source, the President was unhappy Pruitt had involved the Trump Organization in the much publicized story.