EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, on the job just 15 months, faces a dozen federal investigations into behavior so self-serving and egregious that in a Cabinet stocked with the ethically challenged, he stands out.
Policy aside, his reported actions betray a disregard for the very notion of public service. From his penchant for flying first class on the taxpayer’s dime (but not when he’s paying), to his lavish spending, Pruitt has demonstrated that he is undeserving of the office he holds and unfit for leadership of the agency entrusted to him.
Pruitt, unfortunately, seems far more enamored of the trappings of his office than with substance. So critical is his safety that even as he proposed cutting health and safety programs, Pruitt tripled the normal security detail and added 24-hour bodyguards, costing taxpayers millions. So secret are his conversations that he spent $43,000 to build a soundproof phone booth in his office, even though he had access to the secured rooms that serve other top officials. So valuable is his time that he employs lights and sirens in his motorcade, even if he’s just going to dinner at a French eatery in the district. His reason for flying first class — that he would be recognized and harassed or threatened by others on the plane — brought a withering admonishment from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., during a congressional hearing. “Oh, come on … What a silly reason to fly first class. Nobody even knows who you are.”
When it came to living arrangements, Pruitt struck what can only be considered a sweetheart deal, paying the wife of an energy lobbyist who had business before his agency a mere $50 a night for a room in her Capitol Hill condo. Caught in misdeeds or lies, as has happened repeatedly, Pruitt’s default is to blame the system or his subordinates — a reprehensible trait in a leader. Worse, those under him who dare question his decisions have found themselves fired, demoted or reassigned. Pruitt’s short tenure has so far seen a constant stream of talented, highly skilled scientists, researchers and others exiting the agency — a staggering loss of experience and resources that will be hard to replace.
For nearly 50 years, since its creation by President Richard Nixon in 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency has worked diligently under leaders of both political parties to safeguard this nation’s precious natural resources. Administrators have had varying visions of how best to strike a balance among competing interests and responsibilities, but all appeared to take the job seriously, to value scientific evidence and to respect the expertise of their staff.
Pruitt, by contrast, has talked a good game of deregulation, but on closer inspection, his competence appears to be in some doubt. A recent New York Times story found that his efforts to undo regulations often are poorly crafted and lack the evidence and justification needed to withstand a court challenge. Already a half-dozen of his attempts to undo Obama-era regulations have been struck down by courts, and he has backed down on others.
It is understood that President Donald Trump ran on a platform of regulatory rollback that would pull this country out of the Paris climate accord and dismantle the Clean Power Plan, among other things. That is not a path this Editorial Board agrees with, but his victory gives him the right to act on that agenda. However, he should still want to appoint an individual qualified and skilled enough to carry through, and provide the foundational work needed to make such changes stick.
Former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, appointed by President George W. Bush, recently wrote that Pruitt’s “ethical lapses not only make him a questionable spokesperson, but also a detriment to the agency.” Pruitt, she said, “is unfit to run the EPA because he lacks ethical integrity — a quality that is of the utmost importance when entrusted with protecting the environment and public health.”
We agree. It’s time for Pruitt to join the long list of those who have exited the Trump administration. The alternative is to watch a once-storied agency go into decline, pulled down by a leader who lacks the vision or ethical integrity to do otherwise.