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EPA Administrator Pruitt Cites 'Unrelenting Attacks' For His Departure

Jul 6, 2018
Originally published on July 6, 2018 8:21 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Scott Pruitt is out as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. His tenure at the EPA was troubled. More than a dozen federal and congressional investigations have been launched into his alleged ethics violations. In a letter to the president, Pruitt said he's resigning because of unrelenting attacks on him and his family. NPR's Nathan Rott covers the environment. He's with me now. Good morning, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey.

KING: All right. Let's talk about these unrelenting attacks that Pruitt references in his resignation letter. He did face a lot of scrutiny. The list of his alleged ethical problems is not short.

ROTT: No.

KING: What are some of the big allegations?

ROTT: Yeah. It's going to be hard to be comprehensive because the list is so long. But there's everything from allegedly renting a condo in D.C. from a lobbyist who - for what's been called a sweetheart deal, something like $50 a night - to asking EPA aides to do personal work for him, including trying to arrange a job for his wife. Mr. Pruitt spent in excess of $3 million for a 24-hour security detail during his tenure. That was unprecedented. There was a $43,000 phonebooth that he had put in at EPA. Some of his former employees also accused him of demoting or firing them as retribution for questioning his behavior. And that's just a small taste.

KING: Despite the ethical problems, President Trump really appeared to like Scott Pruitt, didn't he?

ROTT: Absolutely. I mean, he went out of his way in the tweet announcing Pruitt's resignation to compliment the now-former administrator for the, quote, "outstanding job" he's done at the EPA. He repeated that later to reporters. And that's really been the case all along. He's publicly supported Pruitt through all of this. And for Pruitt's part, you know, he was pretty unapologetic in his resignation letter. He has and continues to blame all of this, you know, perceived brouhaha on environmentalists and the media, people who were upset about the work that he's doing at EPA.

KING: Yeah. Let's talk about his work. He moved very aggressively to roll back environmental regulations.

ROTT: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, dozens of policies and regulations, including, you know, much of the environmental legacy that the Obama administration had aimed to leave behind. The expectation is that that deregulatory agenda, those rollbacks will continue without him. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done. You know, changing regulations is a years-long process in most cases. And the hope, certainly from conservative groups, is that Pruitt's replacement, Andrew Wheeler, will get them done.

KING: Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist. And he's currently the deputy administrator at the EPA. What do we know about him?

ROTT: Yeah. Well, so we know that he's going to take Pruitt's place on an interim basis, at least, on Monday. And he's very much of the same school of thought as Pruitt in that he believes that many of the agency's regulations for, you know, air, water and chemicals are overly burdensome for industry. He lobbied against many of those policies in recent years on behalf of energy companies and others. Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the EPA under President George W. Bush, talked to All Things Considered yesterday about Wheeler. You know, and she said that she was concerned about his and Pruitt's shared disregard of science and closeness to industry. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: The willingness to wholeheartedly accept whatever industry said - industry should be heard. But they can't be the only voice at the table. And that, I'm afraid - I hope it will change with, I think, administrator Wheeler. But, you know, there are no guarantees.

KING: Well, one of the big questions or concerns about Pruitt from the beginning was his sort of lack of experience leading up an organization like the EPA. Mr. Wheeler has a lot of experience in D.C. He worked in Congress before and with the EPA under President George H.W. Bush. Is there a sense that, given his experience, he might be more effective than Pruitt?

ROTT: Yeah. That's certainly a thought. I mean, certainly, he's got a leg up on Pruitt already just because he's not going to be dogged by this long list of questions about his behavior...

KING: Yeah.

ROTT: ...At least presumably, right? And the impression that I've got from talking to people that know him - liberals, conservatives - is that he'll keep a lower profile than Pruitt. He certainly has more experience in D.C. than Pruitt ever did. So yes, there is a good argument to be made that he might better understand the mechanics of the place. But there's a lot of work that needs to be done. So much of the Trump legacy at EPA has yet to be written.

KING: NPR's Nate Rott covers the environment. Thanks, Nate.

ROTT: Yeah. Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.