Be careful what you wish for.
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt is an embarrassment in an administration that does not embarrass easily. His petty graft alone — taking a $50-a-night room from a lobbyist’s wife; spending taxpayer dollars on luxury travel — should have cost him his job already. He also hit up donors and supporters for jobs for his wife. And he reportedly sent aides to the White House to try to scare up an internship for his daughter. All told, there are more than a dozen open ethics investigations into his actions. In fact, he’s even getting hounded back in Oklahoma, where the state bar association has opened an ethics investigation based on his assertion during his Senate confirmation hearing that he didn’t use private email accounts for state business; it turns out he did just that.
Worse than Pruitt’s lack of ethics, though, is the list of anti-regulatory actions he’s taken to try to roll back necessary environmental protections, from rules to protect waterways to limits on the toxins emitted from smokestacks. We hope that he exits the office soon, whether President Trump fires him or he decides he wants to, um, pursue other options. Even some conservatives who have long supported his anti-environmental efforts have turned on him. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a mentor whom Pruitt might seek to succeed if the 83-year-old senator decides not to run for reelection, told Fox News the other day that “something needs to happen” to shut off the stream of ethical lapses and poor judgment. “One of those alternatives would be for him to leave that job,” Inhofe said.
It’s what might follow, though, that should chill the marrow of people who believe, as we do, that the world must take giant steps to throttle back carbon emissions to mitigate the worst effects of global warming. Pruitt’s deputy and likely leading choice to succeed him is Andrew Wheeler — who has been an aide to Imhofe and a lobbyist for the coal industry. Wheeler also was among those lobbying the Interior Department to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument to open more land to uranium mining. Were Trump to tap him to run the EPA, he might not be any worse than Pruitt, but he certainly wouldn’t be any better. And he might be more effective.
It is similar to the dilemma facing those who hope Trump gets impeached or decides he’s made America great enough and walks away from the presidency. The noise and static out of the White House would disappear, but the ascension of Vice President Mike Pence could ultimately be worse for the country. Trump’s personality keeps Congress unsettled, and his abject lack of knowledge about how government works may, paradoxically, protect the country from even more draconian and destructive ideas. Pence, a former Indiana governor and five-term member of the House, is a doctrinaire conservative, particularly on religious issues. About the only thing worse for the country at this point than Trump would be a president with a bad-but-coherent agenda, deep connections in Congress and an insider’s grasp of how to get things done. That’s Pence.
Put another way, replacing a loose cannon with an experienced political artilleryman could lead to even worse outcomes. That’s not to say we’re not looking forward to an end to Trump’s tenure. But those who are itching to see Trump, Pruitt and others ousted from office ought to think long and hard about what comes next.