US environmental chief Scott Pruitt resigns over ethics scandal
The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is "devastated" after he was forced to resign under heavy pressure over a series of ethics-related controversies, contradicting President Donald Trump's account that the decision "was very much up to" Pruitt.
Pruitt, who had been lauded by Trump for his aggressive efforts to roll back environmental regulations, resigned as EPA administrator on Thursday.
Trump told reporters on Thursday that Pruitt had approached him and offered to resign as opposed to being pushed out. But White House Chief of Staff John Kelly later delivered a message from the president that it was time for the scandal-plagued administrator to leave, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Pruitt did not want to leave his post and was described as being devastated that he had to resign, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing a personnel matter.
Trump announced the resignation on Twitter. “Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Trump wrote.
Pruitt was one of Trump’s most polarizing cabinet members, removing many regulations on the energy and manufacturing industries.
Pruitt, 50, previously served as attorney general of the state of Oklahoma. Before becoming EPA chief, he had sued the federal agency more than a dozen times on behalf of his oil-drilling state.
Last year, Pruitt signed a proposed rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a policy adopted by the administration of former President Barack Obama to cut carbon emissions from power plants.
He was also instrumental last year in lobbying Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a 2015 global accord that seeks to combat global warming.
But Pruitt lost favor with the White House after a string of controversies including first-class travel at taxpayer expense, lavish spending on security, the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office and accusations that he used his position to receive favors.
Some of the ethics accusations against Pruitt also involved jobs for his wife. The Washington Post reported that Pruitt used his aides to secure a job for his wife at the Republican Attorneys General Association with a salary of $200,000.
“The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us,” Pruitt said in his resignation letter.
The Environmental Working Group, a public health and environment watchdog, called Pruitt “unquestionably the worst head of the agency in its 48-year history.”
EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler will become the regulatory agency’s acting chief on Monday. Wheeler is widely expected to continue Pruitt’s efforts to roll back regulation, something that Trump had promised in his presidential campaign.