NOT even his tactical pants could save him in the end. Beset by at least 13 investigations into his alleged grifting and abuse of power—including his office’s expenditure of almost $3,000 on hardwearing pants and polo shirts—Scott Pruitt resigned as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on July 5th.
Washington will be a duller place in his absence—so relentless and uproariously grubby were the scandals his roving eye for a freebie and Napoleonic sense of self-importance kept landing him in. An exhaustive list would be beyond the capacity of this blog. For illustrative purposes, however, in less than 18 months in the job Mr Pruitt was alleged to have spent over $3m on a 24-hour security detail that was three times bigger than his predecessor’s; spent $43,000 on a sound-proof phone booth for his office that was subsequently found to be illegal; spent $5,700 on biometric locks; spent over $100,000 on first-class flights, on the basis that his security would be compromised in economy (allegedly because a fellow traveller once shouted at him: “Scott Pruitt, you’re fucking up the environment!”).
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Mr Pruitt also allegedly demanded that his driver turn on a siren in heavy traffic in order to hasten him to his favourite French restaurant and ordered his bodyguards to pick up his dry-cleaning and help track down his favourite moisturising lotion. According to the testimony of former and serving Pruitt aides, he ordered them to house-hunt for him, pick up snacks for him, pay his expenses on their personal credit cards and source a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington for him. He is also alleged to have requested an aide to find a job for his wife Marilyn—a housewife and former school nurse—with a Republican organisation and a salary of over $200,000 a year.
Mr Pruitt himself approached the chief executive of the fast-food firm Chick-Fil-A to see if he could swing a restaurant franchise for his wife. Some of his bodyguards and aides objected to his requests. Mr Pruitt is alleged to have had them demoted and attempted to ruin the future career prospects of at least one. Several Pruitt aides have resigned and more were rumoured to be planning to quit. Mr Pruitt denies all allegations of wrongdoing; the Republican-controlled Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives had launched an investigation into his behaviour. In recent weeks, even ardent pro-Trump conservatives, such as the Fox News partisan Laura Ingraham, had been pleading with the president to end the alleged graft-athon that Mr Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA had become.
President Donald Trump was nonetheless reluctant to cut him loose because, when not shopping for mattresses, Mr Pruitt had taken the sledge-hammer to America’s environmental policy architecture that the president had demanded. The no-nothing thuggery he displayed towards climate-change rules, in particular, was even more shocking than his ideas of professional ethics. A former attorney-general of Oklahoma, who made a name for himself in conservative circles by suing the EPA, Mr Pruitt questions the science of global warming, has removed mentions of climate change from EPA websites and documents, and is in the process of disbanding Barack Obama’s signature effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from power-stations. (A devout evangelical Christian, he has also suggested he does not buy Darwin’s theory of evolution.)
His removal will be celebrated by Democratic activists, for whom Mr Pruitt’s excesses had come to seem representative of a broadly ethically-challenged administration. It may also make it harder for Mr Pruitt to pursue his well-understood ambition to run for political office, as governor or a senator, in Oklahoma. The lavishly fawning resignation letter he sent Mr Trump—“My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people”—looked like an attempt at damage limitation on that front. Yet, more importantly, there is no reason to believe the EPA will now be less hostile to environmental regulation.
Indeed, under Andrew Wheeler, its new acting administrator, the agency could be more effective at ravaging it. A former coal lobbyist, Mr Wheeler is also a climate change sceptic and considered an effective bureaucratic operator. He promises a less scandal-plagued and more quietly efficient Trumpian EPA. Mr Pruitt’s departure would in that case be good for accountability but more bad news for the environment.
- scott pruitt