Trump’s scandal-hit environment chief Pruitt resigns
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Trump’s scandal-hit environment chief Pruitt resigns

EPA administrator steps down amid ethics investigations into his outsized security spending, first-class flights and an ethically compromised condo lease

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a meeting with state and local officials and President Donald Trump about infrastructure in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on February 12, 2018. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a meeting with state and local officials and President Donald Trump about infrastructure in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on February 12, 2018. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Thursday announced the departure of his environment chief, Scott Pruitt, who faced ever-growing scandals over his spending and conduct in office.

“I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” tweeted the president, ending months of speculation about the future of the man he tasked with dismantling Barack Obama’s green legacy.

“Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this,” added Trump, who gave no reason for Pruitt’s departure.

Trump said Pruitt’s deputy, the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, would take over Monday as acting head of the agency.

“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda,” the US leader tweeted. “We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!

A former Oklahoma attorney general reported to have close ties to fossil fuel industries, Pruitt had become the focus of multiple investigations in recent months, including by his own agency’s inspector general, two other independent federal agencies and by Congress itself.

The list of accusations leveled against the 50-year-old EPA chief had grown almost too long to itemize.

All the charges share a common thread: that he appears to have used the position he has held since February 2017 to enrich his own family’s lifestyle in violation of federal law, while punishing subordinates who raised objections to his behavior, or who failed to show sufficient loyalty to him.

Zealous lieutenant

It all began with a penchant for first-class and private air travel while on official business, a bill footed by the taxpayers, in contravention of usual government practice.

Then came reports of the large number of bodyguards he kept around him 24 hours a day, doubling the cost of his predecessors’ security detail.

He also ordered the installation of a secure telephone cabin in his Washington office at the cost of $43,000, which critics found excessive.

And there was the question of his personal expenses. He rented an apartment linked to oil industry lobbyists in a pricey neighborhood of the capital for a mere $50 dollars a night, a sum he only paid for on nights he actually slept there.

He also tasked members of his staff with personal assignments, including finding him another apartment, getting his tickets to sporting events and trying to help his wife find a job.

In this photo taken on June 1, 2017, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, speaks after US President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Accords in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

Until now, Trump had stood by Pruitt — a zealous lieutenant who strongly defended his decision to quit the Paris climate accords — praising his work to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations that the president says hinder economic growth.

But the tone appeared to have changed in recent weeks.

Last month, while praising Pruitt’s “fantastic job” at the EPA, the president admitted, “I’m not happy about certain things, I’ll be honest.”

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley called the mounting ethical questions facing Pruitt “troublesome” and said “these things matter to the president as well, and he’s looking into those.”

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