Govt.

Pollution-Loving Pruitt Replaced by Coal Industry Lobbyist

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned, leaving a legacy of environmental destruction behind him. His deputy director and soon-to-be acting EPA head is a former coal industry lobbyist who will make certain all Pruitt's pollution plans reach fruition.

Scott Pruitt, the first Environmental Protection Agency administer to serve under Donald Trump, speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Adapted from a photo by: Gage Skidmore, CC.

During his tenure, Pruitt racked up a set of accomplishments which labeled him the most damaging Environmental Protection Agency administrator for all time. In his previous role as Attorney General from Oklahoma, he built the resume Trump needed for the job while always siding with the oil and gas industry. As State AG, he had filed numerous lawsuits against the EPA for how it was constraining local fossil fuel companies in their work. When he became EPA head, he vowed to use his role to right some of he saw was wrong with environmental policy and made good on that pledge, to the detriment of us all.

Like Donald Trump, Pruitt was a climate change skeptic and always ready to side with the fossil fuel industry on almost any issue. According to those close to the situation, he was instrumental in convincing Trump to pull out of the Paris Agreements to control greenhouse gas emissions. He followed that up with rollbacks in numerous regulations controlling emissions from industrial businesses and power plants, toxic waste discharges, rules on pesticide and herbicide testing to keep poisons and carcinogens out of the environment, and critical emissions monitoring requirements – such as mandatory methane gas leak monitoring -- for the fossil fuel industry.

He also worked side-by-side with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to assist oil, gas and mining companies moving into former Federal National Monument areas. He also openly “looked the other way” when agribusiness interests launched wholesale pollution with herbicides and pesticides in America’s National Wildlife Refuges. Also in partnership with Zinke, Pruitt also oversaw the opening of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, a place left virtually untouched by industry for almost 60 years, to oil drilling. Pruitt also was working with Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to help the dangerous coal industry rise again from its ashes, easing regulations that saved coal producers and coal-fired electrical power plants billions.

One of Pruitt’s last jobs was to prepare a major rollback in regulations controlling auto emissions. According to industry insiders, Ford Motor Company and others had been actively lobbying the White House and Pruitt to do this. While these changes are not yet in place, Pruitt has apparently already prepared a detailed proposal for Trump which would block current rules requiring Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards to reach 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Those close to the Trump Administration said the new requirements will be significantly lower.

Pruitt always had time for his industry friends and lobbyists in the fossil fuel and chemicals industries. He avoided spending almost any time with those who felt tighter environmental regulations were a good idea.

With these kinds of results Pruitt clearly did not resign because he failed in his quest to please big business and the fossil fuel industry. He resigned after pressure because of personal greed, abuse of power, conflicts of interest, federal law violations as a Cabinet member, and gross waste of public money.

Among his many corrupt actions as a public servant were:

  • Accepting the offer to stay in a Washington, D.C. high-end condominium which was owned by the wife of a fossil fuels lobbyist. The apartment cost Pruitt only $50/night and just for the nights he stayed there. The lobbyist continued to call on Pruitt on a regular basis afterwards, with at least some of those involving requests to roll back EPA fossil fuel industry regulations. It may also seem a fine point, but the couple renting the luxury apartment to Pruitt also do not have the business license required by DC law to rent the property to anyone.
  • Keeping three sets of calendars and amending official calendars behind his back so he could hide information on lobbyists he was meeting with from prying eyes. The Federal Records Act of 2014 expressly forbids the altering or destruction of such records.
  • Allegedly firing an EPA employee for insisting it to him that it was illegal to destroy the calendar information.
  • Providing enormous raises to two close colleagues he had brought to Washington with him from Oklahoma, then lying about it. When the pay raises were discovered, Pruitt claimed he knew nothing about them. Documents were later found which were signed off by Pruitt’s chief of staff with full approval of the EPA head.
  • Taking numerous trips at U.S. expense which involved meeting with industry trade groups and speaking at Republican Party fund-raising events. Many of these broke multiple federal laws.
  • Wasting federal money on everything from demanding first-class airline seats to fly virtually anywhere, demanding 24/7 security protection from a 20-person security detail with expenses running over $3 million for that alone, and putting him in plush hotels when traveling. Pruitt even had a custom $43,000 soundproof booth made for private phone calls from his office.
  • Having his EPA staff do personal work for him. These did include things like picking up dry cleaning and even trying to get his hands on a used Trump hotel mattress for that $50/night apartment he had nearby. While it is against ethics rules to do these, if these were the only things like this he did it might not be so bad. But he also asked his employees to contact conservative groups and companies to get his unemployed wife a $100,000+ a year job, and even had his staff contact an executive at the Chick-fil-A fast-food chain to attempt to get her a franchise with the company. All these actions these involve ethics violations, breaking of federal laws, and clear conflicts of interest.

When Pruitt resigned, there were no signs of regrets for anything he had done. As he wrote in his resignation letter, which is available thanks to the Associated Press, “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,” he said. “However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizeable toll on all of us.”

In accepting Pruitt’s resignation, Donald Trump said nothing of the scandals which rocked the EPA while Pruitt was head. Instead he called Pruitt “a terrific guy” who Trump hoped will “go and do great things and have a wonderful life”.

Those who despised Pruitt and the damage he had caused were glad to see him go. Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Despite his brief tenure, Pruitt was the worst EPA chief in history. His corruption was his downfall, but his pro-polluter policies will have our kids breathing dirtier air long after his many scandals are forgotten.”

Unfortunately for all of us, Pruitt’s interim successor Andrew Wheeler, the current EPA deputy administrator, is well positioned to take Pruitt’s place and literally keep the ‘home fires’ of the fossil fuel industry burning.

Wheeler is a long-time industry lobbyist, most recently working for Murray Energy, a coal company whose CEO Robert E. Murray is a supporter and advisor to Donald Trump. A Washington insider with 20 years of experience in D.C., Wheeler also worked for Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a Republican who has earned the reputation of the number one climate-change-denier in Congress. Wheeler’s history is one of quietly but fiercely promoting the interests of the fossil fuel industry via the manipulation of regulations.

Trump reportedly will be seeking a formal long-term successor to Pruitt soon. That position will require Senate confirmation. Because the hearings would likely be contentious, Trump is likely to wait until after the fall elections either to elevate Wheeler to the role on a long-term basis, or to put in someone new at the helm. And with Wheeler in charge on a temporary basis, the White House has nothing to worry about in seeing the dirty job Pruitt started continuing in the future.