Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is resigning from his position after months of scandals involving questionable spending practices and other ethical lapses, President Donald Trump said Thursday.
“I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding that Pruitt’s former deputy, Andrew Wheeler, will become the acting EPA administrator. “Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”
Pruitt’s seventeen-month tenure as the administrator of the EPA had been marred by several high-profile scandals. Reports of his mismanagement of the agency and misuse of taxpayer funds have surfaced with startling regularity in recent months, and spiraled into multiple investigations. Some of the allegations against Pruitt involved his extravagant spending habits (like the installation of a $43,000 “privacy booth” which the Office of Government Accountability deemed a violation of of federal spending laws), allegations that he gave favored aides salary increases even after the White House refused to approve them (while sidelining staffers who raised questions about his actions), and renting a room in a Washington, D.C. condominium from an energy lobbyist’s wife for $50 a night, well below market rates. And just hours before Trump announced Pruitt’s resignation, it was reported that Pruitt had used clandestine calendars to conceal controversial meetings with executives from various industries.
Even as the allegations against Pruitt piled up, Trump publicly backed his EPA administrator. “Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA. I mean, we’re setting records,” the President told reporters last month. However, he also hinted at Pruitt’s eventual departure: “Outside, he’s being attacked very viciously by the press. And I’m not saying that he’s blameless, but we’ll see what happens.”
Left-leaning lawmakers, environmentalists, and watchdog groups were gleeful at the news, given both Pruitt’s ethical lapses and his work to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations. “Scott Pruitt was the worst EPA administrator in the history of the agency,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said in a statement. “Good riddance,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Good,” said the executive director of ethics watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, in a one-word statement.
Still, pro-environment lawmakers and outside groups won’t find much to like in Pruitt’s interim replacement, a former coal lobbyist who’s likely to continue Pruitt’s work when it comes to minimizing environmental rules. And even when Trump picks someone to replace Pruitt full-time, Democrats have little power to curb the nomination, given their minority status in the Senate.
–With reporting by Justin Worland