A toxic le­gacy at the EPA

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - PERSPECTIVE -

It’s hard to view Scott Pruitt’s long-over­due res­ig­na­tion as En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor as much of a vic­tory for ei­ther the en­vi­ron­ment or good gov­ern­ment.

Mr. Pruitt, af­ter all, was only car­ry­ing out Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s anti-en­vi­ron­ment, anti-reg­u­la­tion agenda, al­beit with a self-right­eous zeal that made his anti-science views and poli­cies all the more alarm­ing. That’s not hy­per­bole. This is a public ser­vant who, in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter, of­fered that Mr. Trump is “serv­ing as Pres­i­dent to­day be­cause of God’s prov­i­dence,” and that “I be­lieve that same prov­i­dence brought me into your ser­vice.”

Amer­i­cans will no doubt come to see Mr. Pruitt’s ten­ure as some­thing quite other than a bless­ing. A re­cent Har­vard study of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tory ac­tions projects at least 80,000 pre­ma­ture deaths over the next decade, and mil­lions more cases of child and adult res­pi­ra­tory ail­ments, lead poi­son­ing and other sick­nesses as a re­sult of re­peals and roll­backs of clean air and wa­ter rules and pol­lu­tion stan­dards for au­to­mo­biles.

That doesn’t in­clude Mr. Trump’s de­ci­sion, which Mr. Pruitt is said to have in­flu­enced, to with­draw from the Paris Agree­ment, a world­wide ini­tia­tive to min­i­mize hu­man in­flu­ences on global warm­ing, or his push to open more coastal wa­ters to oil and gas drilling, or to en­cour­age more use of coal, or to scale back ef­forts to en­cour­age so­lar and wind power. All that flies in the face of es­tab­lished sci­en­tific con­sen­sus that hu­man ac­tiv­ity is driv­ing global warm­ing and the re­sult­ing cli­mate changes and im­pacts, from more fre­quent, more in­tense storms to ris­ing sea lev­els.

Mr. Pruitt’s ab­sence won’t likely change this di­rec­tion. Mr. Trump is full of praise for Mr. Pruitt’s work. And Andrew Wheeler, the deputy who will run the agency for now, is a for­mer coal lob­by­ist who seems likely not only to con­tinue car­ry­ing Mr. Trump’s dirty wa­ter, but to do so more adeptly.

The one seem­ing bright spot is the end of Mr. Pruitt’s stun­ningly cor­rupt ten­ure, on which there are more than a dozen open in­ves­ti­ga­tions. He is un­der scru­tiny within the EPA and in Congress for, among other things, tak­ing lav­ish trips at tax­payer ex­pense, spend­ing ex­traor­di­nary sums for per­sonal se­cu­rity, giv­ing hefty raises to po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees, getting a fa­vor­able deal on a Wash­ing­ton con­do­minium owned by a lob­by­ist, in­stalling a $43,000 sound­proof phone booth, re­tal­i­at­ing against staffers who chal­lenged his de­ci­sions, and us­ing sub­or­di­nates for per­sonal er­rands.

Yet Mr. Pruitt’s de­par­ture only raises the ques­tion: What took so long? The fact that he lasted 16 months un­der­scores how will­ing Mr. Trump was to over­look such breath­tak­ingly ar­ro­gant dis­re­gard for ethics rules and pos­si­bly fed­eral laws, so long as Mr. Pruitt kept do­ing his bid­ding. Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans seemed to have no great sense of ur­gency to rein in his fla­grant abuses of power.

Mr. Pruitt may be gone, but there’s no rea­son to be­lieve the toxic com­bi­na­tion of danger­ous pol­icy and lax ethics will leach out the door with him. The real mess is left to vot­ers to clean up, start­ing with a Congress that let him fes­ter so long.

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