Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt – who at times appeared to be competing in a personal decathalon of corruption – finally resigned Thursday.
The former Oklahoma attorney general arrived in Washington, D.C. zealous to fulfill President Trump’s vow to dismantle the EPA and leave only “tidbits” behind. And Pruitt, a climate denier with a “biblical worldview,” departs having done grave damage to the agency and the country, chiefly convincing Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.
Pruitt had his sights set on grander posts: He angled to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general and reportedly harbored presidential ambitions. But the administrator’s rising star was eclipsed by seemingly non-stop scandal. Pruitt’s noxious blend of greed, paranoia and entitlement invited more than a dozen federal probes – including one that concluded he violated the law. His gift for grift left even his fellow Republicans fuming. In June, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa blasted Pruitt as “about as swampy as you get”; this week, Fox News star Laura Ingraham tweeted: “Pruitt is the swamp. Drain it.”
Accepting the EPA administrator’s resignation, Trump continued to praise Pruitt, tweeting: “Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him.”
As EPA chief, Pruitt boasted of taking “22 deregulatory actions” that will save polluters and other special interests “more than $1 billion in regulatory costs.” Pruitt also attempted to undermine the EPA’s role in enforcing environmental justice, protecting children against lead poisoning and regulating industrial and coal pollutants. On Pruitt’s watch, the EPA cooked up math only the Koch Brothers could love – slashing the federal estimate of the harmful “social cost” of carbon pollution from $36-a-ton to just $5.
Despite his headline-generating crusade, much of Pruitt’s environmental legacy is unfinished, unsettled – and may yet be thwarted. Richard Lazarus, a Harvard environmental law professor, told reporters that Pruitt’s tenure produced a long list of “short, poorly crafted rulemakings that are not likely to hold up in court.”
Pruitt’s record of personal and political scandal, by contrast, is indelible.
-Rented a condo from the wife of a D.C. lobbyist, who did business before the EPA, for a mere $50 a night. (The scandal caused the lobbyist to resign.)
-Tasked a staffer to procure him a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel.
-Spent more than $4.6 million on a 24/7 security detail, including billing taxpayers more than $3,000 for “tactical pants” and polo shirts.
-Used EPA funds to repair a door his security team broke down to enter the infamous condo, after the administrator stopped answering his cell phone. (He was napping.)
-Sought to lease a private jet for $100,000 a month.
-Fired the EPA staffer who debunked Pruitt’s claims of peril with a report stating: “EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific, credible, direct threat to the EPA administrator.”
-Spent $42,000 on a soundproof booth for his office – the Government Accountability Office found this spending violated federal law – and more than $5,000 on biometric locks.
-Tasked staffers to collect his dry cleaning, provision snacks at Dean & Deluca and drive him in search of a special moisturizer carried only at select Ritz Carlton hotels.
-Spent more than $1,500 on fountain pens.
-Took a $100,000 trip, orchestrated by a lobbyist, to Morocco to promote liquefied natural gas imports, decidedly not the job of the EPA chief.
-Demanded his security detail drive him, lights flashing, to chic French dinners at Le Diplomate and the to airport.
-Leased a Chevy Suburban with bulletproof seats and run-flat wheels.
-Stiffed young staffers who booked and paid for his hotel rooms on their personal credit cards.
-Called the CEO of Chik-fil-A seeking a franchise for his wife, Marylin.
-Enlisted staffers to help find Marylin a different job, reportedly seeking a minimum $200,000 a year salary.
-Put the former treasurer from his Political Action Committee in charge of vetting the EPA’s FOIA requests.
-Kept a secret calendar to avoid disclosures of meetings with top Trump donors and executives of fossil-fuel polluters.
For months, as these scandals mounted, Pruitt somehow rolled on (as if on run-flat tires). But his joyride finally ended this week. With his resignation, the tragicomic cavalcade of Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure has come to an end. But the Trump administration’s assault on the environment continues apace.
Indeed, Pruitt’s interim replacement is his EPA deputy, Andrew Wheeler. A former coal lobbyist, Wheeler is now poised do the fossil fuel lobby’s bidding from within the agency that taxpayers fund to protect our climate, air, water and our children’s health.