Fireworks rippled across dark horizons around the nation on the Fourth of July in celebration of Independence Day. The following afternoon, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first foray into federal government leadership came to an end with no sparks, no bang, not even a dull thud. Rather, it came as a Tweet from the president.
Pruitt’s short term at the helm of the EPA was belabored by ongoing and mounting investigations into his spending on travel and security, and his use of the position to strike personal deals, including a job for his wife.
"The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us,” Pruitt reportedly wrote in his resignation letter.
The long list of potential violations also led close aides and EPA staffers to resign, and Pruitt was beginning to lose support from Republicans in Congress who had approved his nomination.
A whistleblower — who was fired from EPA in February for raising questions about Pruitt’s spending and management — reported that the agency kept a secret calendar to hide industry-related meetings.
The discovery of just such a meeting with representatives from Pebble Mine owner Northern Dynasty resulted in an immediate flip-flop of EPA’s decision to forestall the mine under the Clean Water Act.
After Pruitt’s May 1 meeting with Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier, Northern Dynasty published a press release on May 12 declaring that EPA had settled the lawsuit in exchange for a reversal of the agency’s 2014 decision that the mine would violate the Clean Water Act and threaten Bristol Bay’s wild salmon population.
Pruitt later softened his reversal by reinstating the Clean Water Act objection but allowing the permitting process to continue through the Army Corps of Engineers.
Perhaps these flips and flops could have been avoided if Pruitt had taken more care to meet with all affected stakeholders before making a decision to reverse course. EPA’s 2014 decision was not made in haste. It was a three-year process of investigation into the project, the region and a prolific and sustainable fishery.
Whether it can survive this administration’s erratic navigation remains to be seen.