Scott Pruitt Should Resign from the EPA

From the beginning, the media had it in for Scott Pruitt.

There were two reasons for their determination. First, President Donald Trump’s EPA administrator sought to roll back what Pruitt correctly believed to be costly and deleterious environmental regulations. We held him to be largely right on that score, and still do. The media, and especially the New York Times and Washington Post from which other media take their cue, shared the view of rank and file EPA bureaucrats that Pruitt was “anti-science” and therefore illegitimate. His deregulatory efforts, in their view, would result in environmental catastrophe.

The second reason for the media’s hatred of Scott Pruitt is simply this: He invites it.

Pruitt’s use of public money for non-essential purposes has become a pattern. He’s used taxpayer dollars to purchase lavish dinners and accommodations in five-star hotels; a new, expensively retrofitted Chevrolet Suburban; first-class flights, domestic and foreign, for himself and his security detail; a massive security entourage; “special hiring authority” pay raises for favored staff; and costly office renovations (this last violated two laws, according to the Government Accountability Office). None of these profligacies, taken by itself, would present a major political problem. But together, they present a major one.

Consider, too, reports that Pruitt leased a condominium owned by the wife of an energy-industry lobbyist at a significantly reduced rate, and demoted and/or reassigned EPA staff who raised objections about the administrator’s large expenditures. Again: Neither offense, taken on its own, would necessarily prompt a fair-minded observer to conclude that Pruitt should be fired. Taken together, one begins to wonder why Pruitt’s still in office.

The president has stood by his EPA chief so far, though at this point it’s unclear why. There are at least 11 outstanding federal probes into Pruitt’s conduct. Other administration officials—Tom Price, the former health secretary, and Omarosa Manigault, a communications staffer—were let go for lesser reasons. At the very least, and even granting a news media determined to beat Pruitt with any stick it can find, the EPA administrator has become a constant distraction. Trump seems to relish distractions—but distractions of his own creation, and he didn’t create this one.

The media began its crusade against Pruitt with some duds—we recall for instance the Times’ panicked report that Pruitt’s team used FOIA requests to isolate agency employees actively undermining the leadership’s mission. Nice try, we said at the time, but Pruitt’s team was perfectly within its rights to locate gadfly employees by means of the Freedom of Information Act. Eventually, though, Pruitt’s enemies in the media caught up with him.

As those who view the environmentalist movement with skepticism, we find the whole thing deeply regrettable. But we reject the common assumption that public officials should get a pass so long as they hold the right policy opinions, whatever those opinions are. We share Pruitt’s views on environmental deregulation and value his accomplishments in office. But the time has come for him to go.

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