The resignation this week of Scott Pruitt as EPA “administrator” (more like liquidator) was immediately and resoundingly hailed by virtually all environmental protection groups, wildlife conservationists, scientists and friends of the earth in general. But his successor promises to be little if any better—if, hopefully, less flamboyant and corrupt.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was one of the first to weigh in. He observed that, “instead of protecting our environment and combating climate change, he (Pruitt) has worked to protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry and polluters all over the country.” Senator Sanders opined that, “his resignation is a positive step forward for our country. I will do everything possible to see that the next EPA administrator actually believes in environmental protection.”
All I can say is, good luck with that, Bernie. The man who, as deputy director, will likely replace Pruitt permanently is none other than Andrew Wheeler. Until now in the Pruitt EPA, Wheeler has been in charge of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. His qualifications for the job? He is a former executive from the American Chemistry Council—a grouping of major chemicals manufacturers—and a former lobbyist for the coal industry. That makes him likely to act as an advocate for the interests of some of the very industrial activities that the EPA was formed to monitor. Oh, and, by the way, he is understood to have made a three hundred thousand dollar contribution to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Wheeler is the Trump administration’s fallback, after it permitted Pruitt to be its fall guy. Whenever the swampy water starts reaching the gunwales of this US president’s lifeboat, somebody gets thrown overboard, and this time it was Pruitt’s turn. But replacements are seldom if ever any great improvement, because, in the end, what is flawed is Trumpian policy and the dysfunctional administration as a whole. That’s because, to survive for a while in the Trump administration, all you have to be willing to do is his bidding—no matter what that might be. Anyone carrying a knapsack full of ethics with them need not apply. Pruitt, then, was a shoo in...until he wasn’t.
Lately, Pruitt’s personal antics have been giving the administration headaches, as the news media has tracked down his multiple indiscretions in running his shop as if he were a moneyed prince rather than an environmental agency administrator. The chain of scandals had gotten so bad—from the use of taxpayer money to purchase luxury furniture and contract high-end travel to secretly scheduled meetings and close relations with industry lobbyists, and from firing anyone in the EPA who questioned his most controversial maneuvers to using his post to garner business opportunities and jobs for his immediate family—that White House aides are reported to have been strongly urging the president to cut him loose.
Someone, then, evidently made Pruitt see the writing on the wall. But at least he didn’t miss the White House Fourth of July picnic and fireworks!
If I were to try and second-guess Trump, I would say that he didn’t fire Pruitt sooner because the former EPA director’s serial delinquencies served as smoke and mirrors to take attention off of the serious business of rollbacks that he was seeking to institute on the president’s behalf—rollbacks that have literally attempted to take environmental protection back half a century, to when American industries trashed the air, water and land of the US and the world with utter impunity.
Scott Pruitt’s job—what Trump has defined as “a very good job”—has been to deny science and to deny the need for the measures that have been instituted progressively since the late 1960s to mitigate, alleviate and repair gross environmental damage inflicted on us all by low former industry standards that completely ignored the human cost and lasting consequences of unaccountable production and corporate irresponsibility. In short, his job was to make things easy for Trump and Trump’s industry friends (and Super PAC backers) in their industrial operations.
There can be no doubt that Pruitt was serving the interests of Donald Trump, not those of the United States. In his resignation letter, he proudly (if unwittingly and a little insanely) alluded to this fact, seeming to have considered Trump’s rise to power and, by reflection, his own, as acts of God. And I quote: "My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decision for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enable(d) you to effectively lead the American people..." He might have added to this last...over the brink of environmental disaster.
Among other “achievements” that Scott Pruitt engendered in his service to God and King were the following, as compiled by the environmental news site, EcoWatch and the Environmental Integrity Project, and with comments of my own added:
- Convinced Trump to pull the US out of the historic Paris climate accord.
- Effectively blocked an expected ban on a pesticide so toxic it causes brain damage in children.
- Rolled back the Obama era Clean Power Plan at the behest of the tottering coal industry. The plan would have helped, among other things, to dramatically reduce asthma attacks in parts of the US, especially among children.
- Tore entire sections about climate change out of the EPA website because they directly contradicted (based on scientific facts) his own ridiculous and dangerous theories on the subject—basically, that it doesn’t exist.
- Delayed action to regulate a highly toxic paint-stripping chemical that kills people on contact.
- Cut EPA staff by 50 percent—mostly the scientists and researchers—and boasted publicly about it.
- Rolled back the EPA Clean Water Rule that was designed to protect US streams and wetlands from environmental devastation that eventually affects navigable waterways and the drinking water of an estimated one in three Americans.
- Indefinitely halted compliance deadlines on the 2015 Effluent Limitations Guideline, a federal regulation instituted to limit toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants.
- Announced “reconsideration” of the EPA Coal Ash Disposal Rule, the first federal rule governing disposal of coal ash, the by-product created from burning coal. Coal ash contains toxic pollutants including arsenic, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium (if you don’t remember what this last one is, see a re-run of the movie Erin Brockovich) that, without proper disposal controls, can leach into groundwater, surface water, or air and threaten health and the environment.
- Announced a “review” of the Greenhouse Gas Rule, saying that, “if appropriate”, the EPA would initiate proceedings to suspend, revise, or rescind the rule. Greenhouses gases are the number one proven cause of climate change, which Pruitt—evidently quoting his gut and his boss, but not proven scientific fact—has denied.
And the list goes on, all part of the septuagenarian president’s “to-hell-with-the-environment-I’ll-be-dead-soon” attitude toward effective stewardship of the world that current and future generations will inherit from him and other world leaders.
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said Scott Pruitt would “go down in history as a disgrace to the office of EPA administrator. He will forever be associated with extraordinary ethical corruption and the abuse of power for petty personal enrichments. Sadly, the ideological fervor with which Pruitt pursued the destruction of environmental regulations and the agency itself live on in the Trump administration.”
A 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health said that already in the first six months of Pruitt's tenure as EPA head, the agency moved to a pro-business stance unlike that of any previous administration. So marked was the change, according to the study, that “the Pruitt-led EPA has moved away from the public interest and explicitly favored the interests of the regulated industries.”
The only bright spot in Pruitt’s tenure as EPA administrator is that his policies were so faultily enacted that most are being legally challenged and promise to get mired down in litigation for a long time to come. Legal experts are quoted as saying that the legal and scientific bases of Pruitt’s measures are so fragile that it makes them easy to challenge.
Still, there is virtually no hope of advances in environmental protection as long as Donald Trump remains in office. And the machinations of the village idiots that he is placing in charge of perhaps the most sensitive area of government—because of its far-reaching effects on humankind and nature—could have disastrous consequences for the future.