The July 5 resignation of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency came after many in Washington thought it would, and puts attention on the planned successor, Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Wheeler’s past connections with the coal industry has groups concerned about his strategy to lead EPA, with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) saying he is unfit to lead the agency.
NRDC, other groups and several lawmakers on Capitol Hill had challenged the scandal-plagued Pruitt on many efforts, from repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan to his alleged ethics violations involving travel expenses, use of EPA staff, renting a townhouse from an industry lobbyist with business before the EPA, a $43,000 phone booth for Pruitt’s office, dismantling a science advisory committee and other issues.
In a July 5 tweet, President Donald Trump said he has accepted Pruitt’s resignation, and that within the agency, “Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.” Trump said Wheeler, who was confirmed by the Senate in April, will assume the duties as acting administrator July 9.
“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”
Sierra Club, NRDC and others said Wheeler is not the right person to restore public trust in EPA following Pruitt’s leadership, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune deeming Pruitt “the worst EPA Administrator in history.”
Before being nominated by Trump to the number two position at EPA, Wheeler worked as a lobbyist at law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, and among his clients was coal firm Murray Energy. He previously served as chief of staff for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the most outspoken skeptics of climate change on Capitol Hill.
“Like Pruitt, this veteran coal lobbyist has shown only disdain for the EPA’s vital mission to protect Americans’ health and our environment,” said Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director for government affairs at NRDC. “Make no mistake: we’ll fight Wheeler’s pollution agenda with the same vigor as we did Pruitt’s,” she said in a statement.
Most energy trade groups did not have immediate reactions to Pruitt’s resignation. His tenure included controversy within the agriculture industry for granting waivers to petroleum refiners from complying with the Renewable Fuel Standard. Pruitt served as attorney general in Oklahoma before moving to EPA and filed multiple lawsuits against the agency when he was at the state level.
The Trump administration’s support for fossil fuels and Pruitt’s role was mentioned by the American Energy Alliance (AEA), whose president, Thomas Pyle, served on the transition team for Trump, addressing energy issues following the 2016 presidential election. AEA praised Pruitt for moving EPA “away from an obsessive focus on global warming.”
Pyle said AEA looks forward “to continuing to work with Acting Administrator Wheeler to fulfill the promise of this Administration, and we are confident that his knowledge, experience, and judgment will help the Trump Administration achieve its objectives with respect to environmental and energy issues.”
In his resignation letter to Trump, Pruitt said it has been an honor to serve at EPA and that Trump’s confidence in him “enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your Administration.” He cited “the unrelenting attacks” on him personally and his family that have been “unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”
He added that “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service,” and he wished Trump the best in his future efforts.
Pruitt did not mention future plans of his own.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com