Pruitt decries ‘unrelenting attacks,’ will leaves today

Source: Hannah Northey and Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporters • Posted: Friday, July 6, 2018

Democrats and environmentalists celebrated the announced resignation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as a hard-won victory before setting up a showdown with Andrew Wheeler, who’ll serve as acting agency chief when Pruitt formally departs tomorrow.

“While we applaud Pruitt’s departure, our focus now shifts to acting administrator and coal industry crony Andrew Wheeler,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “Fossil fuel industry insiders have no business leading the EPA, and we will hold Wheeler accountable for his efforts to harm our public health and environment.”

In a resignation letter obtained by E&E News, Pruitt said he would step down tomorrow, citing unprecedented attacks, both personal and on his family.

President Trump tweeted today that Wheeler will serve as acting administrator but stopped short of making a formal nomination. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Wheeler can serve as head of EPA on an acting basis for no longer than 210 days.

Pruitt has for months wrestled with a growing list of allegations and investigations of his spending, staff management and use of his office for personal gain.

“It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it as a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also because of the transformative work that is occuring,” Pruitt wrote in his resignation letter.

“However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented, and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

Democrats who pressed for Pruitt investigations questioned today why his resignation was so long in coming. Others vowed to keep a close eye on Wheeler.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted at Trump: “Took you long enough. Still a very long way to go to fully #DrainTheSwamp.”

“That this took so long shows how high the Trump administration’s tolerance is for corruption and sleaze,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “The sad part is that it was the cascade of little sleazy acts that brought Pruitt down, not his overarching corruption by fossil fuel interests.”

Said Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, “It’s about time.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a statement promised to do “everything possible to see that the next EPA administrator actually believes in environmental protection.”

Wheeler is a former lobbyist for Murray Energy Corp., whose CEO, Bob Murray, has close ties to the Trump administration and is seeking federal relief for a number of struggling coal-fired plants.

“If his successor also puts the interests of polluters ahead of protecting public health and the environment, he or she will encounter the same wall of resistance — and meet the same fate,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

But Wheeler will have an ally in Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of Pruitt’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill and Wheeler’s former boss.

“Andrew worked for me for 14 years, has an impeccable reputation and has the experience to be a strong leader at the EPA,” Inhofe said. “I have no doubt and complete confidence he will continue the important deregulatory work that Scott Pruitt started while being a good steward of the environment. I applaud President Trump for placing him in this position.”