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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigns

The EPA Administrator's tenure was characterized by deregulation and scandal.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt walks during a picnic for military families on the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2018. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt walks during a picnic for military families on the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2018. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Scott Pruitt resigned Thursday afternoon as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after months of mounting controversies.

President Trump tweeted that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation but added that “within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.” Andrew Wheeler has been named as the acting administrator of the EPA.

In Pruitt’s resignation letter to Trump obtained by Fox News, Pruitt wrote “your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated.”

“That is why is hard [sic] for me to advise you I am stepping down as Administrator of the EPA effective as of July 6,” he continued, adding that  “the unrelenting attacks on me personally [and] my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

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Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA was characterized by sweeping environmental deregulation and near-constant scandal. At the time of his resignation, Pruitt faced more than a dozen federal inquiries into his spending habits and leadership style, from reports that he spent more than $105,000 on first class flights during his first year as administrator to allegations that he approved major raises for political aides over the objection of the White House.

The most recent scandals — sending aides to run his personal errands, asking aides to find his wife various jobs, not repaying aides after they were asked to book his travel on their personal credit cards, and reportedly scrubbing official calendars of controversial meetings — have led many to question whether Pruitt broke federal law. Some Democrats had even called for the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into Pruitt.

Despite garnering widespread support from conservatives as these scandals initially became public, Pruitt had begun facing increasing criticism from Republican lawmakers and right-wing media as the controversies mounted. But right up until Pruitt’s resignation, President Trump continued to praise the administrator, saying in June that he was doing “really, really well” at the EPA.

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Under Pruitt’s leadership, the agency finalized the rollback of 22 environmental rules, and undertook action on at least 44 more regulations. The most high-profile of those rollbacks was perhaps Pruitt’s efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era regulation that would have placed emissions limits on power plants.

Pruitt also quietly attempted to roll back rules that would have placed stricter limits on the amount of mercury that can be emitted from power plants, or the amount of methane that can be emitted from oil and gas operations.

Many of Pruitt’s attempted rollbacks were overturned in federal court, leaving the former administrator’s deregulatory legacy in flux as he leaves the agency.

Pruitt’s time at the EPA was characterized by a shift in the agency’s relationship with science, from Pruitt’s own climate denial to several orders aimed at fundamentally altering the agency’s use of science.

Under Pruitt’s tenure, the agency instituted a rule that barred scientists who receive EPA grants from serving on agency advisory boards; Pruitt did not, however, prohibit any scientists who receive industry funding from advising the agency.

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Pruitt also worked to restrict the science that the agency could use in rule-making, signing a proposed rule in late April that prohibits the agency from using any studies with non-public data in crafting regulations — a move that critics say severely limits the kind of data that the agency can use, since many public health studies rely on confidential data.

Enforcement against polluters dropped significantly under Pruitt’s leadership, with the EPA resolving just 48 civil cases in its first year under the Trump administration — compared with 71 civil cases under the Obama administration’s first year and 112 cases under the George W. Bush administration’s first year.

Under Pruitt’s leadership, more than 700 employees left the EPA — the second-highest exodus of employees from the agency in nearly a decade. Staffing levels at the agency are close to what they were during the Reagan administration, with some 14,449 employees on board as of December 2017.

The offices hit hardest by the egress are those that tended to run counter to Pruitt’s mission of deregulation: the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the Office of Research and Development, and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance.

Despite earning a reputation as one of President Trump’s most effective cabinet members, Pruitt gained notoriety for the many scandals that plagued his time as administrator. He came under fire for spending taxpayer dollars on first-class and military travel, as well as round-the-clock security detail and a private, secure phone booth for his office.

A report issued on April 16 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the EPA had violated federal law when it spent $43,000 to install the private phone booth for Pruitt’s office, without first seeking Congressional approval for the spending.

His leadership was also characterized by a lack of transparency, with Pruitt refusing to publicly release his schedule for months and often making himself unavailable to all but the most ideologically-friendly media outlets.

And during his first year in Washington D.C., Pruitt lived in a condo for six months that was owned by the wife of a prominent D.C. lobbyist, whose clients included energy companies like Exxon and Enbridge. Pruitt reportedly paid just $50 a night for the Capitol Hill condo, which also served as a location for fundraisers for three Republican lawmakers while Pruitt lived there.

Despite maintaining that he had never met with the energy lobbyist for official EPA business while living in the condo, the Guardian reported that Pruitt met with energy lobbyist Steven Hart at the EPA in July of 2017 to discuss efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay. (Following the scandal, Hart announced late April that he would be stepping down from his role of chairman at lobbying firm Williams & Jensen.)

Pruitt came to the EPA with a history of antagonism towards the agency he would oversee. As Oklahoma Attorney General, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times, often to stop implementation of environmental rules that would have been costly to the fossil fuel industry. While many of those lawsuits were unsuccessful, he made a name for himself as a sympathetic ear within the energy industry. In 2014, a New York Times investigation revealed that Pruitt had copied a letter drafted by energy industry lawyers and sent the letter to the EPA as though it had come from his own office.