Why you should care
Because the shuffle at the EPA could be good news for the energy industry and bad news for environmentalists.
When an older, slightly weathered Donald Trump finally returns to the boardroom for a post-White House The Apprentice: Season 23, it might be time for a catchphrase adjustment for kicking someone off the show: “I accept your resignation.”
For a disruptor like The Donald — who built his image on pink slips and barking “You’re fired” — one of the oddest parts of his presidency has been how much turnover has been portrayed as willing departures. “Resigned under pressure” is classic Washingtonspeak for shit-canned, but in this area Trump has been strikingly conventional — if more prolific than the average commander in chief.
Thursday’s victim was long overdue. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt had many misdeeds unearthed by news reports that likely crossed legal boundaries: deleting controversial meetings from his official schedule, possibly lying to Congress, renting a discount condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist. But the most memorable? His silly abuses of power, like having his security detail use lights and sirens to beat D.C. traffic to get to dinner at a popular French restaurant, trying to get his wife a Chik-fil-A franchise, installing a $43,000 soundproof booth in his office to evade eavesdroppers. It’s the crackerjack corruption of Trump’s Washington that sticks with you.
I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this. The Senate confirmed Deputy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, will...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2018
It’s hard to tell which straw broke No. 45’s back. Most of all, the former Oklahoma attorney general’s sin was hubris. Pruitt, 50, apparently thought enough of himself that he was angling to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general. He acted like a big shot with a higher Cabinet post than EPA — first-class flights, overseas junkets, massive security detail. Having served in government so long, he doesn’t have a ton of money. Constantly mingling with lobbyists and industrialists (not to mention Trump’s inner circle) apparently gave him a taste for the multimillioniares’ lifestyle. Surely a nice paycheck awaits him now, though perhaps with fewer zeroes than if he’d been scandal-free — or been able to climb higher on the rungs of power.
For the record, Pruitt’s resignation letter said “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, [sic] are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.” Pruitt now joins departed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, chief of staff Reince Preibus, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and a pair of national security advisers (H.R. McMaster and Michael Flynn) in the growing “forced resignation” pile. A couple of exceptions to the “You’re fired” rule: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and FBI Director James Comey.
So what does all this mean for the environment? Pruitt was a favorite of Capitol Hill Republicans and energy industry types for his relentless attacks on Obama-era environmental regulations. Sometimes he went too fast: Pruitt’s slapdash efforts to roll back limits on methane, lead paint and pesticides, for example, were struck down in court. Next up is interim EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, who made a career working for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Yes, the same Inhofe who once tossed a snowball on the Senate floor to prove that the Earth is not really warming. Wheeler, 55, most recently was a coal lobbyist before taking the No. 2 job at the EPA this year.
Long a background figure, Wheeler does not appear the type to replicate Pruitt’s high-profile mistakes, and he knows the ins and outs of Washington enough to be a more effective deregulator. Perhaps he’ll even let his car sit idle at a stoplight on his way to Le Diplomate.