Opinion: Scott Pruitt, anti-environment administrator, leaves poisoned legacy | Opinion | DW | 06.07.2018
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Environmental policy

Opinion: Scott Pruitt, anti-environment administrator, leaves poisoned legacy

The true scandal was not Scott Pruitt's corrupt behavior in using public resources for personal gain, rather the lasting damage he's done to public health and a key US environmental institution, says DW's Sonya Diehn.

The Bible-thumping, climate change denying, public money abusing, fossil fuel zealot Scott Pruitt has resigned as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Good riddance! Never has this key agency been run by someone so hostile to the environment.

Pruitt had set out on a course to roll back environmental regulations, ranging from attempts to undo Obama's landmark Clean Power Plan and tougher emissions standards for cars, to attacks on the Clean Water Rule.

All this with the blessing of US President Donald Trump.

As Pruitt got busy with his mission, it was uncovered how he time and again blatantly misused government resources for his own personal gain, to the tune of millions of dollars.

Among the more ridiculous incidents, Pruitt used his security detail to shop for a special moisturizer available at Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Throughout this, President Donald Trump continued to support him. Pruitt only resigned once the weight of a laundry list of ethics violations proved too much for even Trump to defend him.

It's a sign of the administration's moral bankruptcy. But beyond that, Pruitt's legacy will reverberate for decades to come.

Disservice to a public agency

A recent analysis based on the EPA's own data found that changes already made to environmental law under the Trump administration will result in 80,000 additional health-related deaths in the US over the next decade.

Read more: Trump's lasting damage to the environment

Coal power plant in Arizona (Imago/All Canada Photos)

Air and water pollution from Pruitt's regulatory rollback will kill 80,000 people, according to one analysis

Those are consequences that will impact actual people. But I doubt Pruitt was thinking about this when he wrote his resignation letter to Trump: "I believe you are serving as president today because of God's providence … I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people."

Beyond the hypocrisy of espousing to be a Christian while stealing public money and harming the health of people, Pruitt has left behind another poisoned legacy.

He's damaged an institution that plays a key role in protecting public health and the environment.

Beginning with an internal witch hunt that included gathering lists of names of environmental sympathizers and silencing EPA scientists, Pruitt has sought to turn the EPA into an anti-science, anti-environment body.

This has driven out hundreds of competent career staffers, gutting the agency.

And don't think things will get any better under new leadership.

A more cunning fox

Andrew Wheeler, number two under Pruitt, is set, for the time being, to head the agency.

Andrew Wheeler during confirmation hearing to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC in November 2017 (Imago/ZUMA Press/A. Edelman)

Wheeler has taken up Pruitt's former job as head of the EPA

A coal lobbyist, Wheeler joining the leadership of the EPA has been described as putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Wheeler is a former senior aide to Republican Senator James Inhofe, one of Washington's most prominent climate change deniers.

Yet unlike Pruitt, Wheeler is considered to be a clever Washington insider, and the expectation is that he will carry on with Trump's anti-regulation campaign far more quietly — and competently.

He is yet another corporate lobbyist appointed to a top position by an administration unparalleled in taking such steps.

We need to stay on high alert.

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