- Scott Pruitt, the Trump-nominated EPA administrator, has resigned in the wake of a long list of scandals.
- Pruitt was in the process of trying to roll back more than 30 environmental protections, including regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, clean water, and dangerous pesticide use.
- It’s likely that acting administrator Andrew Wheeler will continue with a similar agenda.
Trump-nominated EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is out, but it’s likely his legacy of rolling back environmental protections will continue.
On July 5, President Trump announced that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation, which came in the wake of a laundry list of scandals.
Pruitt was facing over a dozen federal investigations for his behaviour and the decisions he made as EPA Administrator. He faced inquiries about installing a $US43,000 secure phone booth without informing Congress; spending millions on a 24-hour security detail that was more that triple the size of security details for previous administrators; and spending staggering amounts of money on travel and office upgrades.
Amidst all the scandal, Pruitt still pushed for rapid widespread rollbacks of protections that many scientists consider essential for human and environmental health, instead favouring the fossil fuel industry.
Legal experts say that Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist who is now acting administrator of the EPA, will continue with a similar agenda. As Trump tweeted, announcing that he’d accepted the resignation, “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!”
As The New Yorker reported, Pruitt “proposed repealing or delaying more than thirty significant environmental rules” in his first year on the job.
These are some of the most significant environmental protections Pruitt was in the process of eliminating – and which Wheeler could continue rolling back.
Environmental protections Pruitt was working to roll back
- Pruitt was trying to repeal the Clean Power Plan – the centrepiece of the Obama administration’s plans to deal with climate change by requiring power plants to cap their greenhouse gas emissions.
- Pruitt’s EPA moved to rescind the Clean Water Rule, which clarified the Clean Water Act to prohibit industries from dumping pollutants into streams and wetlands.
- Under Pruitt, the EPA reversed a ban on a pesticide that can harm children’s brains, against the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “There is a wealth of science demonstrating the detrimental effects of chlorpyrifos exposure to developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women,” the academy wrote in a letter to Pruitt.
- Pruitt pushed for President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, an international agreement to avoid the worst effects of climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
- Pruitt’s EPA backed a plan to stop requiring auto manufacturers to make their cars more fuel efficient. The plan also includes language forbidding California and other states from imposing stricter standards, which they planned to do.
- Pruitt pushed to fill EPA jobs with personnel from the coal, oil, and chemical industries. He reportedly even sent a “plea” for candidates to an oil company.
- Under Pruitt, the EPA has lagged in collecting penalties from and punishing polluters, collecting fewer than half the penalty fees that EPA administrations under Obama, Bush, and Clinton did. This was reportedly because Pruitt wanted to avoid legal battles.
- Pruitt unveiled a plan to cut the EPA workforce to its lowest level since the Reagan era.
- Pruitt’s EPA proposed plans to eliminate programs designed to protect children from lead paint. The goal of this elimination was theoretically to cut the EPA’s budget.
Stymied by courts, but likely to continue
As The New York Times has reported, a number of these regulation rollbacks were enacted so swiftly that they have been unable to hold up in court. Several have been struck down, including the rules on lead paint listed above. Courts also told the EPA that they had to enforce a rule requiring companies to monitor for methane leaks, even if they were reconsidering the regulation.
Former colleagues of Wheeler and legal experts told The New York Times that now-acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will be more effective at rolling back environmental protections than Pruitt. Wheeler is reportedly a protege of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in an effort to disprove global warming.
“[Wheeler] will be similar to Pruitt in terms of the agenda – he understands the Trump administration and will carry out the agenda,” Matthew Dempsey, a former colleague of Wheeler’s who works with an energy lobbying firm told the Times. “But he’s been around Washington a long time. He knows how D.C. works and he does things by the book.”
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