Scott Pruitt resigned Thursday as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. His departure was long overdue, in large part because of his disregard for ethics laws. Not only does he have little regard for protecting the environment, much like his boss, he also was intent on aggrandizing himself and his family, even if it is against government rules. It is shocking that President Donald Trump allowed Pruitt’s tenure to last as long as it did.
Pruitt’s resignation letter was a stunning example of what is wrong with the Trump administration — it has become a fawning cult of personality that pays homage to Trump, even when his policies are devastating to the country.
Pruitt praised the president and God, but his letter is light on his responsibility to those he actually worked for — the American people.
“Your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your Administration,” Pruitt wrote.
Losing sight of this simple fact — that every government official works for the people, not a president, governor or other chief executive — leads to harmful and distorted policies. The current state of the EPA is a prime example of service to the American people run amok.
Pruitt’s job as head of the EPA was to ensure that America’s air, water and land are safe for the American people. Instead, he gutted laws that reduced air pollution and prevented the despoiling of our land and water, putting the health of millions of American at risk. He did this to please Trump, who is on a mission to overturn everything former President Barack Obama did, including requiring power plants to emit less pollution and working with other countries to tackle climate change. He also overturned environmental protection laws to please the administration’s corporate backers, something her perfected as the attorney general of Oklahoma.
This anti-environmental track record was known when Trump tapped Pruitt to lead the EPA. It is why Maine’s senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, voted against his nomination. Collins was the only Republican to vote against Pruitt.
“I voted against his nomination because it was clear that he did not support the EPA’s mission,” Collins said in a statement Thursday. “As it turned out, that was only part of the problem. His ethical failings are too numerous to recount, and I am glad that he is finally stepping down.”
Pruitt’s ethical failing are the second way he failed the American people. He wasted our money on needless security, first-class travel, clothing and pens. He had no shame in using his official position to seek out deals that would benefit himself and his family.
In his short tenure, he was already the subject of more than a dozen ethics investigations. Among them, the EPA inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of round-the-clock security, including perhaps at Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. The Government Accountability Office and Office of Management and Budget are investigating the installation of a private phone booth in Pruitt’s office. In its only investigation of a Trump administration official, the House Oversight Committee is looking into Pruitt’s frequent first-class travel.
These investigation don’t include more recent charges that Pruitt used his office to seek a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife or that he used an EPA aide as a personal assistant, including asking her to find him an apartment and procure a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel.
“Scott Pruitt’s tenure was marked by disastrous policies and shocking mismanagement; I hope that new leadership will reassert the EPA’s important role in protecting our environment,” King said in a tweet on Thursday.
Trump appointed Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, as acting head of the EPA. Given Trump’s disdain for environmental regulation and Wheeler’s background, we don’t expect a policy change at the EPA. That is a travesty.
The American people deserve an EPA that protects the environment and, hence, our health and well-being. Collins and King are right to demand that a new, permanent head of the agency meet this standard.
In addition, the American public should not be expected to tolerate being ripped off by government officials who work on their behalf. The new head of the EPA must have much higher ethical standards than Pruitt.