Endless Pressure and Public Scandal Leads to Pruitt's Resignation as EPA Head

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who spearheaded the Trump administration’s initiative to roll back Obama-era fuel economy standards for light vehicles, has resigned. Even after assuming the position, Pruitt remained a tough sell as head of the EPA. His stance on climate change was uncharacteristic of any modern-day environmentalist and he seemed utterly bent on corporate deregulation to bolster profits and stimulate the economy.

Then came a flurry of scandals stemming from frivolous spending habits, improper use of authority, and possible business ties that would inhibit his ability to act in an unbiased manner. Numerous federal investigations were launched into these matters.

While a number of the impropriety claims came from political opponents actively hunting for gaps in his armor, let’s face it, Pruitt hasn’t been making things particularly difficult for them.

His rental of a bedroom in a condominium located in an expensive area of Washington D.C. — owned by the wife of lobbyist — for $50 a night for several months was as strange as it was suspicious. But it was his alleged office habits that were the most damning. Pruitt reportedly had staff running personal errands for him, doing things like investigating real estate opportunities or helping him pursue a Chick-fil-A franchise. He also spent quite a bit of money on a private phone booth at the EPA and racked up huge bills by flying in first- and business-class seats as frequently as possible — even for extremely short trips.

EPA officials said the decision to fly first class was necessary because Pruitt had become recognizable due to widespread media coverage and was being subjected to vulgar language and aggressive behavior from the public. The agency head had even received death threats at his home. His security team claimed isolating him was best solution to the problem.

“If he’s surrounded by other members of the public or it’s a threat, their job is to push him and pull him away from those threats,” Henry Barnet , the director of EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, said in a February interview with Bloomberg. “That’s why it is imperative to keep him away from the individuals so they can keep him safe.”

General support of Pruitt was already waning in the lead-up to various House subcommittees on Capitol Hill earlier this year — where he was accused of being irresponsible with money and no protector of the environment. While some of the charges against him were indefensible, he did have a rebuttal for the fuel economy rollback. It’s been his assertion that the burden to maintain the existing efficiency mandates on automobiles weighs heavy on the industry and is largely unrealistic.

Automakers may be able to squeak by, enduring moderate financial penalties in the coming years, but he feels that consumers won’t respond to more fuel efficient vehicles. This is debatable, especially if the industry has to offer them, but there’s evidence to support his claim. The practical efficiency of new vehicles hasn’t gone up in several years when you account for American buying habits. People are selecting heavier automobiles and not placing a strong emphasis on efficiency.

Be that as it may, Pruitt’s deregulation crusade still caused quite a bit of negative publicity. Some of his decisions have no rebuttal that doesn’t revolve around claims that the EPA has gotten overzealous in recent years — something which began when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. But a lot of Pruitt’s decisions just look like he’s doing businesses that want to pollute a series of large favors.

Several aides and communications officers quit the EPA this year while the Democrats clamored for his resignation. Even some Republican lawmakers have stopped defending him from criticism. Meanwhile, the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board said the agency was ignoring its own research to rationalize its push to deregulate.

President Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Thursday that he had officially accepted Pruitt’s resignation. “Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Trump said.

Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry, will take over the agency as acting administrator on Monday. While his agenda is likely to be similar to that of Pruitt, most expect him to take a more moderate stance and not push quite so hard for widespread deregulation.

[Image: Lorie Shaull/ Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • CecilSaxon CecilSaxon on Jul 08, 2018

    TTAC needs to stick to cars. Folks either see him as the Devil incarnate and hater of all things dear to them or a benign God fearing man that just gave his all until politics began threatening his family.

  • El scotto El scotto on Jul 08, 2018

    1. There's a warning label every time you log into a government computer that more or less states that your consent to gov't monitoring. 1a. The far right/left will either love or hate that info. 2. Everything, repeat EVERYTHING Pruitt typed on his gov't computer was monitored. 2. Will the EPA Inspector General (IG) do anything with this info? 2a. Will the EPA IG do anything with this info? That's the next news story. Don't worry, TTAC will run it.

  • Stephen My "mid-level" limited edition Tonino Lambo Ferraccio Junior watch has performed flawlessly with attractive understated style for nearly 20 years. Their cars are not so much to my taste-- my Acura NSX is just fine. Not sure why you have such condescension towards these excellent timepieces. They are attractive without unnecessary flamboyance, keep perfect time and are extremely reliable. They are also very reasonably priced.
  • Dana You don’t need park, you set auto hold (button on the console). Every BMW answers to ‘Hey, BMW’, but you can set your own personal wake word in iDrive. It takes less than 5 minutes to figure that that out, btw. The audio stays on which is handy for Teams meetings. Once your phone is out of range, the audio is stopped on the car. You can always press down on the audio volume wheel which will mute it, if it bothers you. I found all the controls very intuitive.
  • ToolGuy Not sure if I've ever said this, or if you were listening:• Learn to drive, people.Also, learn which vehicles to take home with you and which ones to walk away from. You are an adult now, think for yourself. (Those ads are lying to you. Your friendly neighborhood automotive dealer, also lying to you. Politicians? Lying to you. Oh yeah, learn how to vote lol.)Addendum for the weak-minded who think I am advocating some 'driver training' program: Learning is not something you do in school once for all time. Learning how to drive is not something that someone does for you. It is a continuous process driven by YOU. Learn how to learn how to drive, and learn to drive. Keep on learning how to drive. (You -- over there -- especially you, you kind of suck at driving. LOL.)Example: Do you know where your tires are? When you are 4 hours into a 6 hour interstate journey and change lanes, do you run over the raised center line retroreflective bumpers, or do you steer between them?
  • Mike Bradley Advertising, movies and TV, manufacturing, and car culture have all made speeding and crashing the ultimate tests of manhood. Throw in the political craziness and you've got a perfect soup of destruction and costs.
  • Lou_BC Jay Leno had said that EV's would be good since they could allow the continued existence of ICE cars for enthusiasts. That sentiment makes sense. Many buyers see vehicles as a necessary appliance.
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