For those who don’t know, Scott Pruitt is currently the head of Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, an agency whose name has become somewhat ironic under the current administration. Pruitt has been mired in scandals this week, and has faced a surprisingly difficult interview about said scandals on Fox News. Yet Pruitt’s job within the Trump administration seems surprisingly secure.
A short rundown of the various scandals Pruitt has been involved in: he has been caught misusing federal funds to fly first class, despite flying coach when using his own money. The New York Times revealed he spent $107,000 of taxpayers’ money doing this. He has also been questioned on the renting of a luxury condominium from the wife of an energy lobbyist. This was reportedly at the cost of $50 a night.
And now this week The Atlantic has reported that Pruitt attempted to give two senior staffers substantial raises – $56,765 for Millan Hupp, and $28,130 for Sarah Greenwalt – which were denied by the White House. When news of the denial reached Pruitt, he decided to “reappoint” the staffers on the higher salaries, utilising a rule that allows the chief of the EPA to hire 30 staff without senate approval. This is usually reserved for the hiring of experts in climate science and other relevant areas. He then lied about doing so in an interview with Fox.
Yet despite all these scandals, that far surpass what David Schulkin had done to supposedly provoke his dismissal from the Department of Veteran Affairs (see my column from last week), Pruitt remains safely ensconced at the EPA. The New York Times reported that on Monday evening, the president phoned Pruitt to reassure him of his job security. This was then followed by a phone call from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reaffirming this. Trump also tweeted his support for Pruitt, saying Pruitt was doing a ‘great job.’ Considering Trump’s recent Twitter behaviour surrounding his employees, I can imagine when he first heard he had been tweeted about Pruitt had to fend off a severe aneurysm.
So why, if David Schulkin was fired for far less from the Department of Veteran Affairs, is Scott Pruitt apparently safe at the Environmental Protection Agency? Well, whereas David Schulkin was working against the interest of Trump and lobbyists by fighting the wider agenda of privatisation of the services provided by his department, Scott Pruitt is right on message with Trump: he’s a climate change doubter too.
Margaret Talbot commented in the New Yorker that ‘although there is a consensus among scientists that human activity is causing climate change, Pruitt is skeptical of this view,’ and she pointed out that ‘he has met only a handful of times with environmental groups.’ Pruitt has himself said ‘I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.’
Pruitt has succeeded in doing what David Schulkin failed to do, keep his job, because Pruitt is much more in line with the agenda of the president. The New York Times said this week that Pruitt has announced his most ambitious rollback plan to date, which is to weaken the Obama-era rules on planet-warming tailpipe emissions. Pruitt’s job since he began has essentially been to undo the work of the Obama administration.
But for those despairing about Pruitt’s job security, I suggest reading Politico’s recent article on Pruitt. In it, Michael Grunwald asserts that despite praise from the Wall Street Journal, and a reputation among both conservatives and environmental groups alike as someone who is rolling back all the hard work of the Obama administration, stripping back regulations that had hampered fossil fuel companies, Pruitt is in fact rather ineffectual.
In fact, Grunwald says that ‘so far he’s only managed to delay a few rules that hadn’t yet taken effect. His supporters, critics and boss have all promoted the perception that he’s repealed Obama’s environmental legacy and shredded America’s environmental rulebook—and no one has promoted that perception more energetically than Pruitt, who frequently sued Obama’s EPA when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. Nevertheless, that perception is wrong.’
So, despite Pruitt being in line with the views of the president, perhaps appropriately for someone who works for Donald Trump, he is more than capable at talking and boasting, but is ineffectual when it comes to making policy and governing. And despite his public shows of support, Trump is surely aware of this. Any more negative publicity, and climate change-denier or not, Pruitt could be following David Schulkin out the door. I’ll start searching for my non-existent sympathy in advance.
Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press.