Scott Pruitt Has Become Ridiculous

• Apr 18, 2018

Editorial Board, The New York Times

Despite stiff competition, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is by common consensus the worst of the ideologues and mediocrities President Trump chose to populate his cabinet. Policies aside — and they’re terrible, from an environmental perspective — Mr. Pruitt’s self-aggrandizing and borderline thuggish behavior has disgraced his office and demoralized his employees. We opposed his nomination because he had spent his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the federal department he was being asked to lead on behalf of industries he was being asked to regulate. As it turns out, Mr. Pruitt is not just an industry lap dog but also an arrogant and vengeful bully and small-time grifter, bent on chiseling the taxpayer to suit his lifestyle and warm his ego.

Any other president would have fired him. Mr. Trump praises him. “Scott is doing a great job!” the president tweeted on April 7. He agrees with Mr. Pruitt on policy — indeed, many of the administrator’s worst moves have been responses to Mr. Trump’s orders. And — no small chiseler in his own right — Mr. Trump seems to care not a whit about Mr. Pruitt’s mounting ethical problems, which have lately reached a point where Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, has reportedly told the president that he should think seriously about letting Mr. Pruitt go.

These problems began innocently enough, with the revelation last year that Mr. Pruitt had ordered up a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for his office so that his employees could not overhear him. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said Monday that the purchase violated the law because the E.P.A. had not notified Congress before incurring the expense. But what seemed like early onset executive paranoia quickly metastasized. Citing security concerns, Mr. Pruitt insisted on flying first class, against government custom, and when possible on Delta Air Lines (not the federal government’s contract carrier), so that he could accumulate frequent-flier miles. He asked his staff to schedule trips back to Oklahoma so he could spend weekends at his home there. “Find me something to do,” he said, according to evidence presented to Congress by Kevin Chmielewski, who was the E.P.A.’s deputy chief of staff until he was forced to resign after raising objections to Mr. Pruitt’s excesses. Mr. Pruitt used his own security detail and hired private security guards during a trip to Italy — at a cost of $30,000 — when embassy guards were available free.

In addition, he tripled the size of his security detail, also at taxpayer expense. He ordered bodyguard coverage 24 hours a day. He insisted on flashing lights and sirens to take him to the airport and to restaurants, a perk customarily reserved for the president and vice president. He rented a room at $50 a night, well below market rates, in a Washington condominium co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist with business before Mr. Pruitt’s agency.

He didn’t get everything he and his team wanted: a bulletproof sport utility vehicle, for instance, equipped with special tires designed to keep moving even when hit by gunfire; a $100,000-a-month contract to fly on private jets. But heaven help the E.P.A. staff members bold enough to challenge these demands. The Times reported this month that five agency officials — including Mr. Chmielewski — who objected to Mr. Pruitt’s costly requests and security upgrades were dismissed, reassigned or demoted.

One frequently overlooked truth about Mr. Pruitt amid these complaints is that for all his swagger he has actually accomplished very little in terms of actual policy — a wholly desirable outcome, from our standpoint. While hailed as the administration’s foremost champion of deregulation, he has yet to kill or even roll back any significant regulations that were in placewhen Mr. Trump came to office. (The Obama administration’s important Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants had already been blocked by the courts.) He has delayed a few rules, but even these delays have been overturned or challenged. Most of his actions are in the proposal stage, and many will not be finalized for years, if ever.

That does not mean Mr. Pruitt has been without baleful influence. He helped spearhead the effort to get Mr. Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change, a major insult to every other nation on earth, all of which have agreed to limit planet-warming greenhouse gases.

By endless repetition, he has reinforced in the public mind the lie that Republicans have peddled for years and Mr. Trump’s minions peddle now, that environmental rules kill jobs, that limiting carbon dioxide emissions will damage the economy, that the way forward lies not in technology and renewable energy but in digging more coal and punching more holes in the ground in search of oil. And, on the human level, he has been in the forefront of the administration’s shameless effort to delude the nation’s frightened coal miners into thinking coal is coming back, when any comeback is unlikely not because of regulation but because of strong market forces favoring natural gas and renewables.

Should Mr. Pruitt choose to depart — even some Republicans are complaining about his behavior — or by some miracle should Mr. Trump fire him, the administration’s appalling environmental policies are unlikely to change. The recently confirmed deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal industry lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s deregulatory zeal and fealty to the fossil fuels industry. Mr. Wheeler was for many years chief of staff for James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and long the Senate’s most determined denier of the accepted science on global warming.

So far as is known, however, Mr. Wheeler, a Washington insider, has no lust for bulletproof S.U.V.s or other trappings of power. Such modesty by itself can only lift the moral tone of a once-noble office that Mr. Pruitt has besmirched.


You can read the full article by the NYT Editorial Board here

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