U.S. Environmental Protection Agency leaders have a well-earned reputation for their unique and sometimes bizarre interpretations of how a federal agency should operate.
There was the professed “spy” who didn’t show up at his EPA job for more than a year. When his boss finally got around to asking him about his absenteeism, he said he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. (He didn’t.)
Then there was the regional EPA administrator who told a public meeting in Texas that he planned to operate like the Romans. He would crucify the first companies that crossed his path to convince the others to stay in line.
And then there was the EPA administrator who authorized federal money to go to a website attacking Washington state farmers. The website, which still exists, alleges farmers are “degrading our water, destroying vital habitat and endangering our fish” without offering any proof.
The EPA originally became involved in the website as part of a letter-writing campaign to lobby the state legislature to clamp down on farmers.
Through the past several administrations, the EPA has been out of control.
When Scott Pruitt arrived in Washington, D.C., as the new EPA administrator, he promised to “refocus the agency back to its core mission of protecting the environment.” He rescinded the Waters of the U.S. rule that would have put the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of nearly every body of water in the nation. He ended the EPA’s “sue and settle” deals with environmental groups that allowed them to write regulations. He also promised to work with the states and stakeholder groups and collaborate with them instead of attacking them.
It was no surprise that this common-sense agenda upset the hard-core environmental groups that had previously enjoyed cozy relationships with the EPA’s rank-and-file and top administrators. With that in mind, Pruitt should have known that the environmental elites and the Beltway bullies would be out to get him. Any false steps he made would be blown out of proportion.
To avoid those attacks, he should have realized he needed to make sure all of his actions were above reproach.
But he didn’t. The problem wasn’t with how Pruitt steered the EPA back toward the center. The problem was his ethical judgment.
He stayed in a cut-rate apartment that belonged to the wife of an energy lobbyist. He installed a $43,000 sound-proof phone booth in his office. He flew first class. He tried to procure a fast-food franchise for his wife. He ordered full-time security for himself. And he demoted or fired EPA officials who questioned such actions.
At one time 13 ethics investigations involving Pruitt were underway.
One has to wonder whether there were two Scott Pruitts.
The first Scott Pruitt was doing a pretty good job of reining in an out-of-control federal agency. But a second Scott Pruitt was completely deaf to warnings that everything he did would be put under a microscope.
Pruitt resigned last week, saying, “... unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”
We’re confident President Trump will find a replacement for Pruitt who can do the whole job at EPA — continuing to get the agency back under control and at the same time keep himself, or herself, out of the ethical tall grass.