Pruitt Out, Wheeler in at EPA

Published July 27, 2018

After months of increasing scrutiny and under mounting pressure from Capitol Hill, Scott Pruitt resigned his position as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Pruitt’s resignation came after months of attacks over purportedly too-close ties to the industries he was charged with regulating, personnel decisions, purchases made for the agency, and travel expenses.

Three days before he resigned, Pruitt joined a growing number of Trump administration officials and allies who have been harassed at their homes or in public places by people opposed to the president’s policies. While having lunch with a colleague at a Washington, DC restaurant, Pruitt was confronted by a woman who lectured him on EPA policies and called on him to resign.

‘Unrelenting Attacks’

Pruitt’s resignation letter says although he was honored to have served President Donald Trump and implement the president’s calls for reform of the EPA, the continuous personal attacks had become too much for him and his family.

“Mr. President, it has been an honor to serve you in the Cabinet as Administrator of the EPA,” Pruitt wrote. “Truly, your confidence in me has blessed me personally and enabled me to advance your agenda beyond what anyone anticipated at the beginning of your Administration. Your courage, steadfastness and resolute commitment to get results for the American people, both with regard to improved environmental outcomes as well as historical regulatory reform, is in fact occurring at an unprecedented pace and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you and the American people in helping achieve those ends.

“That is why it is hard for me to advise you I am stepping down as Administrator of the EPA effective as of July 6,” Pruitt wrote. “It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you … because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

Trump Praises Pruitt’s Efforts

Despite repeated calls by Democrats in Congress to fire Pruitt, Trump stood by him to the end. In typical Trump fashion, the president used Twitter to announce Pruitt’s resignation.

“I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” Trump tweeted. “Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”

En route to an event in Montana, Trump told the press on Air Force One on July 5 the decision to resign was Pruitt’s alone, stemming from his belief he was becoming a distraction and might hamper the agency’s regulatory reform efforts.

“There was no final straw,” Trump told the assembled press. “Scott is a terrific guy. He came to me and he said, ‘Look, I have such great confidence in the administration. I don’t want to be a distraction.'” Asked if the accusations against Pruitt troubled him, Trump responded, “No,” and said the decision to resign was “very much up to [Pruitt].”

Wheeler Takes Charge

Andrew Wheeler, deputy administrator of EPA, will now run the agency as Acting Administrator.

Wheeler has years of experience working with EPA both within and outside the agency, winning awards for his work at the agency from 1991 through 1995. Wheeler subsequently worked as majority staff director, minority staff director, and chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, with oversight responsibility for EPA.

Trump expressed confidence in Wheeler’s ability to keep the agency on its reform track, tweeting on July 5, “I have 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!”

Wheeler inherits an EPA in the midst of myriad new regulatory reviews and actions. In addition, EPA is working on replacements for the Clean Power Plan, Waters of the United States rule, and Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards; to improve the transparency and public accessibility of the science used to guide agency decisions and rules; and to establish new, nationwide pollution limits for drinking water and groundwater, all efforts started under Pruitt.

Different Style, Better Results?

Wheeler is well-situated to continue Trump’s regulatory reform efforts, says Tim Huelskamp, Ph.D., president of The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“With his resumé of commitment to the cause of commonsense policymaking, Andrew Wheeler is an excellent choice to run the EPA, and we are excited to work with him,” Huelskamp said. “Just like the extremist Left had it out for Scott Pruitt before he was even sworn in, they have targeted Wheeler as well.

“However, we doubt these personal attacks will deter Wheeler from his noble goal of focusing the EPA on its core mission of helping to keep America’s air, land, and water free of pollution.”

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, says Wheeler’s experience and more subdued style could make him even more effective at implementing Trump’s goals than Pruitt was.

“Based on his experience and the work he has already done at EPA, we have full confidence Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will be effective in carrying President Trump’s important EPA reform agenda forward,” Ebell said. “The reforms already begun and those to be undertaken will have positive consequences for American consumers, the economy, and the environment.

“For many people at EPA, the various accusations leveled at Scott Pruitt presented a real challenge and a distraction, possibly hampering ongoing reform efforts,” said Ebell. “Wheeler is much more low-key than Pruitt, lacking a lot of the real and imagined political baggage he carried. Thus, with Pruitt gone and Andrew in charge, people can get back to focusing on doing their jobs every day.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.