Dogged by scandal, the first EPA chief of the Trump administration, Scott Pruitt, has resigned. But his work to loosen the agency’s regulatory grip on industry will likely advance.
Pruitt resigned effective July 6 amid more than a dozen federal investigations into alleged ethical lapses, his lavish spending of taxpayer money, and controversial policies he put in place during his roughly 16 months at EPA. Among them is a probe by congressional investigators into Pruitt’s change in the makeup of EPA’s outside science advisory groups. Pruitt dropped many academic researchers and replaced them with representatives from industry and state regulatory agencies.
In his resignation letter, Pruitt writes that “the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”
Leading the agency since February 2017, Pruitt acted steadily to implement President Donald J. Trump’s directive to slash “unnecessary and burdensome” regulations. Activists on the left, meanwhile, contend that this is undermining health and environmental protections.
Pruitt’s departure, however, likely won’t mean a change from the deregulatory path that he set if Congress doesn’t intervene.
“The ideological fervor with which Pruitt pursued the destruction of environmental regulations and the agency itself live on in the Trump administration,” says Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook.
EPA’s second-in-command, Andrew Wheeler, took the reins as interim agency head on July 9. Wheeler is widely seen as a politically savvy Washington insider who effectively pushes the interests of the fossil-fuel industry.
Wheeler is a former lobbyist for coal company Murray Energy and was chief of staff for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a leading denier of human-caused climate change. Wheeler also worked in EPA’s pesticides and chemicals program for four years under the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“We have full confidence in Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to carry President Trump’s important EPA reform agenda forward,” says Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian group that is skeptical that humans are causing climate change.
Trump has yet to nominate a new EPA chief, a position Wheeler has said he does not want.