Andrew Wheeler, who takes over as acting head of the agency, is a former coal lobbyist
Scott Pruitt, the embattled head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is out after a tenure marked by ethics scandals and rollbacks of regulations meant to protect the public.
Pruitt was the subject of more than a dozen ethics investigations, the validity of which he has disputed. Recent weeks brought a drumbeat of salacious news, from requests for EPA staffers to assist him on the public’s dime to keeping meetings with industry a secret. President Donald J. Trump announced Pruitt’s resignation Thursday in a series of tweets.
It seems unlikely that Pruitt’s departure will change the policy direction of the agency. Senior EPA officials hired under Pruitt, some of whom are former industry lobbyists, have a history of advocating for many of the same regulatory rollbacks he executed. That includes Andrew Wheeler, now acting head of the EPA. Coal giant Murray Energy Corporation is one of his previous clients.
“Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Trump said in his tweets, adding: “I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda.”
Under Pruitt, the agency was frequently criticized by environmentalists, former EPA officials and others for undermining its own mission to protect human health and the environment. The Center for Public Integrity found political appointees — many of whom remain — largely came from industries regulated by the EPA or the offices of elected officials who expressed skepticism of established climate science. Career scientists, lawyers and others at the agency said they were kept out of the loop on decisions that would normally rely on their expertise.
On top of that, a Center analysis showed that Pruitt’s first year on the job yielded an agenda that matched much of what industry groups had asked of the EPA. For example, Pruitt reversed course on fuel-efficiency standards intended to limit vehicles’ climate-changing emissions and save consumers money. He also signaled plans to loosen a widely used permitting loophole allowing industrial plants to pollute more than environmentalists say was intended under the Clean Air Act.