by Mike Bryson, SUST Blog Editor
The blockbuster national news of this week is the long-overdue resignation of the scandal-ridden Scott Pruitt from the US Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, July 5th, as reported by the NY Times, Inside Climate News, the Union of Concerned Scientists, etc. The second most remarkable thing about Pruitt’s tenure is how long it lasted, given his obvious unsuitability and incompetence in running the agency as well as the historic levels of alleged corruption in his conduct, which have been well-documented by the mainstream press since his appointment.
The first, though, is the profound damage he has done to the EPA’s core mission of protecting the natural environment and human health by undermining the agency’s scientific and ethical credibility, encouraging President Trump to abandon the historic Paris climate accord (and removing climate change from the list of EPA’s priorities), demoralizing its long-serving scientists and policy professionals, abandoning evidence-based decision-making, placing the interests of fossil-fuel companies and polluting industries above those American citizens, and eroding public trust in one of our nation’s most important regulatory agencies. (This is just a partial list.)
While Pruitt’s gross incompetence and the head-spinning number of flagrant ethical violations he is under investigation for may have finally done him in, his unceasing efforts to diminish, degrade, and demoralize the EPA’s staff and the institution itself are far more damaging than his appalling personal conduct.
It must not be forgotten that all of Pruitt’s official actions at the EPA were precisely in line with the Trump administration’s anti-environment, anti-regulation, and anti-science political agenda, which is why the President kept praising his work despite its fundamental sloppiness and an unceasing torrent of scandalous revelations about Pruitt’s conflicts of interest, ethical lapses, wasteful spending, and lack of accountability. (The fact that the latter became embarrassing to the likes of Trump speaks volumes about Pruitt’s astounding lack of a moral compass and any shred of discretion.) Indeed, the very reason he was appointed in the first place was his track record of repeatedly suing the EPA in his previous job as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
Unfortunately, the person who will now take the reins at the EPA — Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist — will likely continue the anti-environment/pro-industry agenda shaped by Pruitt, albeit without his former boss’s brazen corruption but with a far greater grasp of Washington’s bureaucratic ways and means. Meanwhile, the President will seek a new EPA administrator, an appointment that will and should be hotly contested in the Senate during this convulsive and controversial time in our national politics.
Given this sorry state of affairs, we concur with this official statement by Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists:
It was clear from the beginning that Scott Pruitt had no interest in protecting public health and safety, and it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t dismissed until he became a clear political liability.
While he clearly violated ethical standards and bilked taxpayers, he inflicted far worse injury on American children and families by abandoning science and the EPA’s public health and environmental mission. Mr. Pruitt reversed a proposal to ban the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, going against all credible scientific advice. He moved to increase cancer-causing air pollution from major industrial sources across the country. He threw out years of research to undo vehicle standards that have delivered cleaner cars.
It’s time for the EPA to clean house.
In 1983, after a series of ethics violations plagued the EPA, President Reagan turned to Bill Ruckleshaus to lead the agency. The independent and experienced leader cared deeply about the future of the agency and restored its effectiveness. The next EPA administrator needs to be someone who will uphold independent science and commit wholeheartedly to the agency’s science-based mission of protecting public health and the environment. Until then, Congress should conduct considerably more oversight because political appointees at the EPA are sidelining science and compromising the agency’s effectiveness.”