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Scott Pruitt Is Out as EPA Head. A Coal Lobbyist Takes His Place.

Katelyn Burns

Andrew Wheeler, former chief of staff to climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), has lobbied for the largest coal mining company in the US.

Embattled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday offered his resignation to President Trump, ending one of the most brazenly corrupt tenures for an agency head in U.S. history.

Deputy EPA Director Andrew Wheeler will step in to run the agency. Wheeler has a long history of lobbying for looser regulations on the coal industry. Wheeler, former chief of staff to climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), has lobbied for the largest coal mining company in the United States, NBC News reports. Three Democrats joined Republicans in the U.S. Senate in April to confirm Wheeler. 

“Andrew Wheeler is equally unqualified to serve as the nation’s chief environmental steward,” Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director for government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Like Pruitt, this veteran coal lobbyist has shown only disdain for the EPA’s vital mission to protect Americans’ health and our environment. Make no mistake: we’ll fight Wheeler’s pollution agenda with the same vigor as we did Pruitt’s.”

In a self-aggrandizing resignation letter, Pruitt decried “unrelenting attacks” that have “taken a toll” on him and his family as media outlets documented his abuses of power as head of the EPA. “I believe you are serving as president because of God’s providence,” Pruitt wrote. “I believe that same providence brought me into your service.”

His resignation comes a few days after a confrontation at a D.C. restaurant, where Kristin Mink, a concerned citizen, urged Pruitt to resign. Environmental groups cheered the resignation but remain resolute in opposing the administration’s efforts to roll back a range of environmental protections. 

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“Scott Pruitt will go down in history as a disgrace to the office of EPA administrator,” Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. “He will forever be associated with extraordinary ethical corruption and the abuse of power for petty personal enrichments. Sadly, the ideological fervor with which Pruitt pursued the destruction of environmental regulations and the agency itself live on in the Trump administration. So while Pruitt is gone, and good riddance, our resistance to all he stood for will continue undiminished.”

Advocates have reason to worry about Wheeler at the helm of the EPA.

“We’re left with the same problem that we had when Scott Pruitt was appointed. He was appointed to dismantle the EPA from the inside. He was extremely effective at doing that,” Mink said in an interview with Democracy Now. “Andy Wheeler is likely to be possibly even better at that, because Scott Pruitt was not well liked and Andy Wheeler is. He’s a Washington insider, he knows a lot of people, he has already wielded a lot of influence there. So he’s another person who we can say is not going to support the interests of the American people, he’s going to be there to support his own interests and the interests of big business.”

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