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Scandals force EPA's Scott Pruitt to exit stage right

Pruitt stands accused of being one of the most corrupt cabinet officials in history. The question is not why he resigned; it's why in the world it took so long.
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 11, 2018 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a meeting between US President...

Earlier this week, a woman named Kristin Mink, carrying her 2-year-old son, walked up to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in a D.C. restaurant. Mink, a local school teacher, told the Oklahoma Republican, "I would urge you to resign before your scandals push you out."

Four days later, she got her wish. Donald Trump announced via Twitter this afternoon:

"I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this."The Senate confirmed Deputy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, will on Monday assume duties as the acting Administrator of the EPA."

Pruitt is the fourth member of the president's cabinet to step down, following HHS Secretary Tom Price, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and VA Secretary David Shulkin.

In his resignation letter to Trump, Pruitt, after offering gushing praise for his boss, said, "[T]he unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us."

This, of course, makes it sound as if the outgoing EPA chief is a victim worthy of pity. In reality, Scott Pruitt is the subject of 15 federal investigations and stands accused of being one of the most corrupt cabinet officials in American history.

The question is not why he resigned; it's why in the world it took so long for Pruitt to leave.

The Oklahoma Republican, who took over the EPA just 16 months ago despite (or possibly because of) his opposition to the agency's work, is often seen as ruthlessly effective in dismantling environmental safeguards. In practice, however, Pruitt hasn't just developed a reputation for corruption: his record reflects a clumsy and careless administrator.

The New York Times  reported in April that Pruitt has "often been less than rigorous in following important procedures," and many of his environmental rollback efforts have already been rejected in the courts.

Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard, told the Times, "In their rush to get things done, [Pruitt and his team are] failing to dot their i's and cross their t's. And they're starting to stumble over a lot of trip wires, They're producing a lot of short, poorly crafted rulemakings that are not likely to hold up in court."

In other words, Pruitt hasn't even been good at the one part of his job that the far-right liked.

As for his possible successor, in the short term, the president said the EPA will be led by Andrew Wheeler, and those concerned about environmental protections, this is not a step in an encouraging direction.

As we discussed in April, Wheeler is a former lobbyist for, among others, Murray Energy, one of the nation's largest coal companies and fierce opponent of environmental safeguards. Wheeler also served as chief counsel for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's preeminent climate deniers.

The New Republic's Emily Atkin recently explained, "Wheeler is not just the figurative embodiment of the swamp, but the literal embodiment of it. The coal industry is responsible for 72 percent of toxic water contamination in the United States, making it the nation's largest water polluter. That's according to the agency where Wheeler is about to be second in command -- the agency that is charged with protecting clean water."

If Wheeler is Trump's choice to lead the EPA, it will be up to the Senate to confirm him as Pruitt's permanent replacement. The confirmation process will likely prove interesting.