A toxic legacy at the EPA
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.