He transformed the agency from one informed by science into one dominated by industry.
In a letter more appropriate for a vassal than a Cabinet member, Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned last week, finally overcome by a torrent of scandals.
But before he used the EPA as his own personal assistant and ATM, resulting in no fewer than a dozen federal investigations, Pruitt was a horrible fit for an agency whose mission is “to protect human health and the environment.”
Before he insisted on taxpayer-funded first-class travel and a security detail fit for a Third World dictator, before he lived in a discounted condominium rented from the wife of a lobbyist, before he used agency employees to help search for a job for his wife or repaid private favors with public resources, he was just a bad EPA administrator.
In his time as the nation’s top enforcer of environmental standards, Pruitt handed the keys over to the fossil fuel and chemical industries.
He introduced rules rolling back national standards on vehicle fuel-efficiency, making sure that the thousands of Mainers with breathing problems would continue to suffer.
He halted work on limiting emissions from oil and gas facilities, and called for an end to the “war on coal,” so that more dirty particles would be pushed into the air.
He rolled back regulations that protect wetland and streams, and reversed a plan to ban a dangerous pesticide.
He helped remove the United States from a position of leadership on the monumental issue of climate change by pressing President Trump to pull out of the Paris climate accord.
What’s more, Pruitt fundamentally changed how the EPA is structured, turning it from an agency informed by science and dedicated to public health into one dominated by industry.
He changed the makeup of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, removing academics and replacing them with people of questionable backgrounds. To quote The Center for Investigative Reporting: “Pruitt transformed the board from a panel of the nation’s top environmental experts to one dominated by industry-funded scientists and state government officials who have fought federal regulations.”
No surprise, that did not sit well with many of the career employees who have dedicated their lives to the EPA mission; the agency’s workforce is down to levels not seen in decades.
From the start, Pruitt worked against the EPA’s purpose, and the agency suffered. He leaves the EPA greatly diminished. The Senate, which will confirm his successor, should demand that Trump’s nominee be dedicated to restoring it.