How the EPA's Scott Pruitt Became the Most Dangerous Member of Trump's Cabinet; Scott Pruitt, Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Cares Much More about His Next Political Office Than He Does about Melting Ice Caps or Ozone Levels

By Nazaryan, Alexander | Newsweek, February 16, 2018 | Go to article overview

How the EPA's Scott Pruitt Became the Most Dangerous Member of Trump's Cabinet; Scott Pruitt, Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Cares Much More about His Next Political Office Than He Does about Melting Ice Caps or Ozone Levels


Nazaryan, Alexander, Newsweek


Byline: Alexander Nazaryan

For someone whose entire political career has been built on an animosity to Washington, D.C., Scott Pruitt certainly appears to have enjoyed the past 12 months of federal employ. He has been to Morocco, where he shilled American natural gas. There was also a trip to a golf resort in Naples, Florida, for a meeting of the National Mining Association. And to lovely Kiawah Island, off the South Carolina coast, to join a retreat of the American Chemistry Council. Some bureaucrats may be relegated to the sad desk lunch, but Pruitt is not among them. When executives from a coal company were in town, they took Pruitt to BLT Prime, the restaurant at the Trump International Hotel that is the unofficial clubhouse of the Make America Great Again crowd.

Not bad--and not routine--for an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a post Pruitt has held since last February. Never has the EPA been in custody of a chief who so unabashedly wants to enervate the agency while serving transparent political goals. And, it should be added, the goal of the president who appointed him. Donald Trump promised, during the campaign, to abolish the EPA. That may have been bluster, but Pruitt will get him close.

Detractors know this, and they are furious. "People should be terrified with what Pruitt is trying to do with the EPA," a scientist who has worked at the agency for several years told me. "If people aren't terrified, they probably don't know how important EPA is for public health."

Making the same case in a New York Times op-ed, former Republican New Jersey governor Thomas Kean pleaded with Trump to fire Pruitt. "Our children and grandchildren deserve better," Kean wrote.

Trump has not fired Pruitt, and he has little reason to do so, since Pruitt has proved himself a ruthlessly efficient member of the president's Cabinet amid the administration's well-documented chaos.

Last February, White House chief political strategist Stephen Bannon promised a "deconstruction of the administrative state," a drastic diminution of the federal government's role in both public and private life. But deconstruction turned out to be tricky stuff for which many of Trump's Cabinet members don't seem especially well-equipped. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign, due to his penchant for private jet travel--at a cost to taxpayers of $400,000. Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, is fending off similar scrutiny of his travel, not to mention unflattering reports of his self-aggrandizing tendencies (issuing his own challenge coins and insisting on the hoisting of a departmental flag whenever he is at Interior's headquarters). Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is rumored to be ever on the cusp of dismissal, his corporate diplomatic style painfully out of place amidst Trumpian fire and fury. Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, was irrelevant in last year's tax change efforts. Ben Carson, at Housing and Urban Development, had openly declared he wasn't suited for a Cabinet position. He got one anyway, even though he appears to know nothing about housing policy and is floating inconsequentially through his workweek. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Jr., sleeps through his.

But Pruitt has been Trump's drama-free Energizer bunny of a Cabinet appointee--his "most adept and dangerous hatchet man," The Los Angeles Times deemed him--channeling the president's wants without arousing his anger.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told me that Trump and Pruitt "have a good relationship. President Trump is very supportive of Administrator Pruitt's work on deregulation. He regularly recognizes him in group meetings for his work on this front."

EPA officials declined repeated Newsweek requests for an interview with Pruitt; their only comment, sent by spokesman Jahan Wilcox, was a statement that read, in part, "We have a great working relationship with career EPA employees. …

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