It was the habitat’s happy day: Birds and butterflies smiled, lakes and trees, too. Chipmunks did cartwheels. The nature slayer was gone.
Scott Pruitt, head of the fraudulently labelled Environmental Protection Agency, sank in the swamp that was supposed to be drained but that he made deeper by the day.
Environmentalists shouldn’t be jumping over the moon, however. Their joy will likely be of short duration. The replacement for Mr. Pruitt is his deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former high-powered lobbyist for the coal industry. The Onion, the satirical journal, had a nickname for him: “Pulsating Black Sludge.”
Mr. Pruitt didn’t lose his job because of his slash-and-burn approach to the ecosystem. Being on the wrong side of history seldom gets you on the wrong side of Mr. Trump. Fellow Republicans lauded Mr. Pruitt’s work, as did the President. “I can tell you at EPA he’s done a fantastic job,” Mr. Trump recently declared.
Rather, the EPA chief is gone because he gave new meaning to the term “scandal plagued.” He resigned, only 17 months into the job, amid more than a dozen federal inquiries into his spending and management malfunctions.
There is little remorse, mind you. In his resignation letter to the President, Mr. Pruitt appeared to think he had been carrying out God’s will. “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence,” he wrote. “I believe that same providence brought me into your service.”
We hope he wasn’t trying to suggest it was by divine design that he was presiding over the despoiling of the land. That’s a stretch even by Trumpian standards.
It was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, who was the country’s first environmentalist. It was Richard Nixon, another Republican, who created the EPA almost half a century ago. The Grand Old Party of today, a breed apart in so many ways, wants the agency taken down and, to a good degree, has succeeded.
During the Pruitt tenure, more than 700 employees left or were forced out of the department. More than a dozen regulations of the Obama administration aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and improving air quality were eliminated or rolled back. The Trump administration withdrew from the Paris climate accord. Under Mr. Pruitt, the coal industry got back on track. On EPA advisory committees, scientists were replaced with corporate representatives. For fracking it was a field day. Deregulation was the name of the game. Anything to serve the interests of the fossilly minded.
The policy thrusts were another example of the Trump administration being a polar opposite to the tastes of the Justin Trudeau government. The two sides didn’t often publicly clash on environmental issues because the Pruitt policies, fortunately, didn’t have ruinous cross-border impacts.
There is little doubt that Mr. Wheeler will stay the course set by his former boss. Mr. Wheeler was vice-president of the Washington Coal Club. He’s a former aide to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, an ardent climate-change denier. As a lobbyist, Mr. Wheeler worked through the last decade for energy and mining companies the EPA is supposed to regulate. His firm’s highest-paying client was Murray Energy, a coal-mining enterprise which coughed up US$300,000 or more annually.
“I have no doubt,” said Mr. Trump, “that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda.”
Unlike Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Wheeler is a Washington insider who knows the rules and is expected to clean up the mess at the agency. He is not expected to copy the bullying habits of his former boss. Mr. Pruitt was so paranoid that he surrounded himself with a security detail of almost 20 armed agents and a fleet of vehicles that cost taxpayers millions. The fossil-fuel guy had a US$43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in his office, violating spending laws. To tend to his complexion he had his security detail drive around looking for Ritz-Carlton moisturizing lotion.
The reason he lasted as long as he did was because he was a master sycophant who bowed to every presidential whim, fossil-framed and otherwise.