As long as President Trump is firing Cabinet members, may we make a nomination? Scott Pruitt, and not just because of the allegations by Bloomberg and ABC News that he took a sweetheart deal for himself and a daughter for living space in a Washington townhouse co-owned by the wife of an oil lobbyist. The deeper problem is that he is a danger to the planet.
Pruitt, of course, is the director of the Environment Protection Agency, whose mission is supposed to be enforcing environmental laws. But lately he’s been accused of a variety of seamy acts of self-dealing. Not only did he allegedly accept the cheap rent deal from the lobbyist’s family, but he has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on travel, flying first class apparently because he doesn’t like getting yelled at by passengers in coach who recognize him. He spent $120,000 of government money on one trip to Italy that included using a military jet and a $7,000 premium commercial ticket for a transatlantic flight, according to the Washington Post and Bloomberg.
In a normal administration, these would probably be sufficient reasons to kick the guy out of his job. In fact, similar actions cost Tom Price his job running Health and Human Services, even though his shaky ethics were known when he was hired. But in Trumpworld, this is everyday stuff. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent more than $12,000 in tax money on a chartered flight to his home in Montana, and Housing and Urban Development chief Ben Carson plunked down $31,000 for a kitchen set for his office (and then blamed his wife). In an administration led by a president to whom self-dealing is second nature, financial sins seem to come with pre-absolution.
So why are we singling out Pruitt? Because in these dire times, Pruitt’s a danger. It’s not so much that he’s a small-time abuser of the public trust living the high life with taxpayer dollars. The bigger issue is that when he’s not flying luxuriously around the world, he’s single-handedly imperiling the Earth by dismantling the EPA, undoing long-standing, bipartisan-supported rules and regulations and arguing the wrong side of every environmental issue at a moment when the fate of the planet is up for grabs. (Reportedly, Pruitt is going to roll back fuel economy standards for motor vehicles in the next few days.) That’s why we said in February 2017 that he shouldn’t be confirmed, and that’s why we would be happy if his penny-ante misbehavior brought him down now.
The hot reality is that global warming is real, and that it has already begun to affect the climate. Over the last four winters, the expanse of Arctic sea ice has been the lowest on record, which has endangered native settlements that rely on an iced-up coast to keep winter storms from eroding land. Rising seas and related erosion also have forced the relocation of a village in the Louisiana bayou, and low-lying cities are trying to figure out how to cope with coastal flooding. As many as 20 million Americans could become climate refugees by the end of the decade, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Climate scientists warn that droughts and flooding will worsen and that hurricanes likely will become bigger, stronger and more frequent. But that is all mythology to the likes of Pruitt.
The EPA came into being four decades ago for a reason. States were doing a lousy job of regulating pollution, which left skies smoggy, rain contaminated with acids and rivers and lakes laced with industrial toxins. The EPA hasn’t always done a good job, but it has played a vital role in trying to keep our communities healthy and habitable. Pruitt has sought to undo that by ignoring science, distrusting the advice and professional conclusions of his staff and vigorously attacking regulations that evolved through years of deliberation. It’s to the Senate’s shame that it approved Pruitt’s nomination despite knowing that as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he had filed more than a dozen lawsuits challenging regulations and the legal authority of the EPA.