EPA chief Scott Pruitt is gone – but there’s little cause for celebration

The damage Trump’s most corrupt official has done to the environment will last for generations.

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On Thursday, Scott Pruitt resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency following a string of scandals over his personal spending, his relations with lobbyists and his treatment of staff who were critical to him. Pruitt is one of almost two dozen high-ranking officials who have stepped down, or been pushed, from the Trump administration.

Pruitt’s appointment to the EPA was an environmentalist’s nightmare. He rolled back scores of Obama-era environmental protections with ideological zeal and an eye on his energy industry pals. Some of this was unfinished business: as attorney general in Oklahoma, he had sued the EPA 14 times, often in partnership with oil and gas companies. He was also instrumental in the US’s disastrous decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.

Pruitt has questioned whether human activity is causing climate change, despite the consensus within the international scientific community that this is the case.

It seems the only ecosystem that Pruitt nurtured in office is the Washington swamp. For example, he rented a Washington town house for the ludicrously low-rate of $50 a night from the wife of an energy lobbyist. When it came to government funds, however, he was often profligate, spending $168,000 on air travel in his first year in office and tens of thousands of dollars on office equipment, including $43,000 for a sound-proof phone booth and $1,560 on fountain pens.

He submitted a proposal to replace two desks in his office for $70,000 (one of them was bulletproof). The New York Times has reported that at least five EPA officials were reassigned or demoted after questioning Pruitt’s spending or management of the agency.

Pruitt governed the EPA like a princeling, dispatching aides to pick up his favourite protein bars and Dean & Deluca pastries, find him an apartment, book his holidays, pick-up his dry cleaning and seek out his favourite moisturiser, available only from Ritz-Carlton hotels. This same inflated sense of entitlement was apparent in his habit of instructing his motorcade to use flashing lights and sirens when he was running late for important engagements like dinner at the trendy French restaurant, Le Diplomate.

According to the Times, the final straw for Donald Trump were the recent media reports that Pruitt had asked the president to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions so that he could fill the job. (Pruitt denied asking for this, though it is known that he has long wanted to head the justice department.) In his resignation letter, Pruitt played the victim, citing the “unrelenting attacks on me personally”. Trump said in a tweet that Pruitt had done an “outstanding job” and that he would “always be thankful to him”.

His departure offers little cause for celebration. Pruitt is replaced by his deputy at the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry who is expected to continue the administration’s efforts to roll back environmental protections.

Sophie McBain is North America correspondent for the New Statesman. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.