Andrew Wheeler to step in as acting administrator
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned Thursday amid ethics investigations of outsized security spending, first-class flights and a sweetheart condo lease.
With Pruitt’s departure, President Donald Trump loses 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.
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.
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.
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 one-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.