President Donald Trump has accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt, the embattled EPA administrator under fire for a host of ethical and spending concerns.
Trump made the announcement via his Twitter account Thursday afternoon. In a series of tweets, the president thanked Pruitt for his efforts and said EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former Capitol Hill staffer and coal industry lobbyist, will take over as acting administrator on Monday.
“Within the agency, Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Trump tweeted. Of Wheeler, Trump said he has “no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright.”
Agricultural and renewable fuels groups were frequently critical of Pruitt’s handling of the Renewable Fuel Standard, arguing the former Oklahoma Attorney General was implementing policies too friendly to the oil industry. Pruitt was a fixture in a series of White House meetings to potentially rework some aspects of the RFS, but those meetings never produced a compromise after pushback on aspects of a rumored deal that would have made exported biofuels eligible for RFS compliance credits.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who was frequently critical of Pruitt’s biofuel policies, said Trump “made the right decision” in accepting Pruitt’s resignation.
“Fewer things are more important for government officials than maintaining public trust. Administrator Pruitt, through his own actions, lost that trust,” Grassley said. “I hope Acting Administrator Wheeler views this as an opportunity to restore this administration’s standing with farmers and the biofuels industry.”
In a statement, Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen said news of Pruitt’s resignation is causing “a collective sigh of relief coming from the Midwest,” adding that Pruitt’s “failure to follow President Trump’s directive to remove the red tape that restricts E15 from being sold in the summertime likely played a part in his demise.”
“We look forward to working with Acting Administrator Andy Wheeler, whose long career focusing on policies that recognize economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive is not undermined by an unmistakable anti-ethanol, anti-farmer bias,” Dinneen added.
Environmental groups were active in their opposition to Pruitt and celebrated the news. Rhea Suh, president of the National Resources Defense Council, said Pruitt’s job performance had as much to do with his opposition as did concerns about his ethics.
“Ethics matter. So does a commitment to EPA’s central mission. Scott Pruitt failed miserably on both counts,” Suh said. “If his successor also puts the interests of polluters ahead of protecting public health and the environment, he or she will encounter the same wall of resistance – and meet the same fate.”
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said Pruitt “will go down in history as a disgrace to the office of EPA administrator.”
Pruitt was popular among agricultural groups for his regulatory reform efforts, particularly for his work to repeal and replace the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule. Farm and ranch organizations argued that rule, promulgated by the Obama administration but stayed by the court system, would have resulted in a dramatic expansion of federal authority under the Clean Water Act.
A proposal to replace the WOTUS rule is currently under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. Ellen Steen, general counsel for the American Farm Bureau Federation, doesn’t expect Pruitt’s resignation to change much on that front.
“I don’t think Administrator Pruitt was spending 12 hours a day at his desk trying to rewrite WOTUS,” she said. “We were very happy with Administrator Pruitt’s focus on the issue, but we don’t have any reason to believe Mr. Wheeler would be any less supportive of the work the agency is doing.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said he looks forward “to the confirmation of the next head of the EPA,” but said Pruitt’s actions made it challenging for the agency to effectively operate.
“During Administrator Pruitt’s tenure, the agency has rolled back punishing regulations that were hurting American workers and stifling our economy,” Barrasso said. “It has become increasingly challenging for the EPA to carry out its mission with the administrator under investigation.”
Sen. Tom Carper of Delware, the committee’s top Democrat, took a different tone, calling Pruitt’s tenure “a stain on a critical agency.”
“I knew that Mr. Pruitt and I would seriously disagree when it came to policy. That was no surprise,” Carper said in a statement. “But Mr. Pruitt’s brazen abuse of his position for his own personal gain has been absolutely astounding, rivaled only by the silence of far too many in Congress and in the White House who allowed Mr. Pruitt’s unethical, and, at times, possibly illegal behavior to go unchecked.
“History will not look kindly on this era: neither on Mr. Pruitt’s entirely irresponsible tenure nor on Congress’ abdication of its constitutional responsibilities, all in order to protect political allies,” he added.
Pruitt was the subject of more than a dozen federal investigations ranging from looks into the size and scope of his security detail to his use of first class travel on official business.
(Story updated 5:18 p.m. to include additional comment)
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