The only disturbing thing about the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is why it took so long.
Pruitt epitomized the swamp President Donald Trump promised to drain during his campaign. A list of Pruitt’s ethical transgressions — including first-class air travel, bloated security detail, use of aides for personal tasks like trying to land a Chick-fil-A fast-food franchise for his wife, and acceptance of favors from lobbyists — would be longer than a Tolstoy novel. His catalog of scandals, now the subject of 14 federal ethics investigations, managed to unite both sides of the political divide in their disgust. His behavior also drove out many dedicated career EPA employees who have shown over years that they can work with someone with whom they disagree philosophically — but not someone of Pruitt’s character.
Still, Pruitt stayed much longer than others in this administration whose offenses were fewer and more minor. That’s because Trump admired Pruitt’s zeal for blocking and unraveling important environmental protections put in place by prior administrations.
The other silver lining in this story is that our system of checks and balances worked. Whistleblowers told their stories, journalists followed up with good reporting, and Pruitt was unmasked as one of the most petty and conflicted Cabinet members in a long time.
The EPA’s new acting head will be Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, one of a dismaying number of industry officials hired by Pruitt to regulate their own industries. We hope that whoever becomes the permanent administrator of the EPA will lead the agency back to the mission inherent in its name — environmental protection.
The goal is clean air and clean water, and that’s best safeguarded by someone with clean hands.