“The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.”
Since taking the helm at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt has sabotaged the agency’s mission by strangling its budget, tearing down environmental safeguards, putting industry insiders in charge of the agency, and stamping out science that supports environmental protection. His reckless agenda is putting polluters first, while putting millions of Americans at grave risk of harm. In addition, Pruitt’s unethical and possibly illegal behavior has violated the public trust and eroded the confidence of Americans in the EPA’s ability to protect us. For all these reasons, Scott Pruitt is unfit to lead the EPA and should be fired.
The evidence below lays out our case for firing Scott Pruitt.
Strangling the EPA's Budget
President Trump and Scott Pruitt have proposed slashing the EPA’s budget by 23 percent. Gouging $1.9 billion out of the EPA would cut spending to the bone and force thousands of layoffs.
- The budget cuts would cripple programs that protect us from dangerous air pollution, drinking water contamination, lead poisoning, oil spills, toxic pesticides, hazardous waste sites, cancer-causing radiation, and global warming pollution.
- Funding for the restoration of the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay would be virtually eliminated. Funding would be zeroed out entirely for the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, and South Florida, including the Everglades and Florida Keys.
- More than a dozen programs that combat climate change would be abolished.
- Other programs facing elimination include Beaches Protection, Pollution Prevention, Environmental Education, Coastal Waterways, Lead Risk Reduction, and many more.
- Spending on enforcement of environmental laws would be slashed, making it easier for companies to pollute with impunity, even criminally.
- Environmental justice programs would be gutted, leaving the most vulnerable, low-income neighborhoods at the mercy of hazardous dumping, incinerators, and oil terminals.
Shredding Environmental Protections
At the behest of industrial polluters, Pruitt is rolling back the life-saving protections at the heart of the EPA’s mission, with potentially devastating consequences for American families. During his first months in office, Pruitt frequently met with industry executives and lobbyists, and key EPA decisions during that period advanced their special interests. A recent analysis by Reuters revealed that Pruitt held 25 times more meetings with industry representatives than with environmental advocates during his first seven months in office.
- After meeting with coal magnate Robert Murray several times—and at White House direction—Pruitt proposed to revoke the Clean Power Plan, the vital rule for cutting power plant pollution that’s driving climate change and threatening the health of millions of Americans.
- Pruitt fulfilled another wish of the coal industry by prevailing on President Trump to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris Climate Accord.
- Advancing the agenda of polluting corporations, Pruitt announced that the EPA will suspend the Clean Water Rule, which protects streams, wetlands, and other sources of drinking water for one in three Americans.
- One day after being asked to do so by the oil lobby’s political allies, Pruitt canceled a requirement that oil and gas companies report information on their methane pollution, one of the most powerful drivers of climate change.
- Pruitt is allowing hundreds of major industrial polluters to dramatically increase the amount of arsenic, lead, mercury, and other toxins they can spew into our air.
- Pruitt has issued guidance that opens a major loophole for industrial polluters to increase harmful smog and soot pollution.
- Bowing to the chemical industry, Pruitt delayed a rule requiring plants to improve safety and prevent accidents that cause the release of toxic chemicals. In a 10-year period, 1,500 such accidents injured more than 17,000 people and killed 58.
- Pruitt refused to carry out a court order and statutory mandate that requires the EPA to issue a rule controlling hazardous substance spills from aboveground storage tanks at industrial facilities. There are hundreds of such spills every year, and millions of people—especially low-income and people of color—live near such sites that pollute streams, lakes, and drinking water sources.
- Less than three weeks after being introduced to Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, Pruitt overruled EPA scientists and rejected an agency ban on chlorpyrifos, a “nerve gas pesticide” that causes neurological damage in children and infants. Result: The chemical will still be spread on food crops that wind up on our dinner plates.
- Pruitt shelved the proposed ban of the highly toxic paint stripper methylene chloride, which has been linked to at least 56 deaths. The chemical industry sought to kill the ban proposal, despite mounting fatalities and extensive studies by EPA scientists.
- After meeting with the auto industry, Pruitt began a process to weaken clean car standards that protect our climate and health, and is preparing to weaken fuel-efficiency standards for model-year 2022-2025 vehicles. He is also opening a deadly loophole that would allow a few companies to produce new big-rig trucks fitted with old engines that belch 20 to 40 times more pollution than modern engines. This assault on clean air will lead to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of premature deaths.
- Pruitt has put an indefinite hold on new safeguards that would crack down on the amount of lead, arsenic, mercury, and other toxic chemicals that power plants can dump into our waterways, where they threaten our food and drinking water supplies. The heavy metals can inflict lasting brain damage on children.
- After a spate of meetings with coal executives and mining lobbyists, Pruitt has proposed major changes in rules that protect communities from toxic coal ash, which contains dangerous levels of heavy metals. In June 2018, the EPA shifted oversight of coal ash waste disposal from the federal government to the states, beginning with Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma. The shift was sought by industry.
- A mere hour after meeting with mining CEO Tom Collier—and before being briefed by career staff—Pruitt directed the EPA to withdraw proposed protections for Alaska’s spectacular Bristol Bay watershed, breathing new life into a disastrous plan to gouge the Pebble Mine, a massive, open-pit copper and gold operation, out of the headwaters of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery. Pruitt later reversed his decision, but not before his earlier move enabled Pebble to secure a new investor and move forward with permitting.
- Under Pruitt, the number of civil cases filed against polluters has dropped drastically—with 44 percent fewer cases opened last year than during the first year of the Obama administration—and the penalties companies have been forced to pay have fallen by almost half.
- The number of special agents at the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division investigating the most serious potential pollution violations has fallen by a tenth since Trump's election. And the number of criminal referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice, which prosecutes pollution cases, is at a three-decade low. This is more evidence that Pruitt is hollowing out the agency’s ability to do its job of holding polluters accountable.
- Pruitt is tried to delay a ban on methylene chloride, a deadly chemical found in paint thinners, so that his allies in the chemical industry can continue to profit from these toxins. Methylene chloride has already killed 56 people since 1980. In early May, Pruitt met with families of some of those killed, after which the agency did signal that it would follow through on the ban but left the specifics and timeline vague.
- Pruitt plans to rescind a package of safety measures proposed for chemical plants and oil refineries after a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant in 2013 killed 15 people, including 12 emergency responders. The chemical industry welcomed the changes.
- Pruitt issued a “back-to-basics” memo that could drastically weaken how health-based national air-quality standards in the Clean Air Act are set, giving more weight to economic costs and less to protecting health.
Putting Polluters in Charge of the EPA
As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt marched to court arm in arm with fossil fuel companies and other polluters to stop the EPA from protecting our clean air, clean water, and climate. Now, at the helm of the EPA, Pruitt is engineering a polluter takeover of the agency. He has recruited one industry insider after another to oversee the very polluting industries they came from.
- Bill Wehrum, who heads up the clean air office, was an attorney representing oil, gas, coal, and chemical companies. On their behalf, he sued the EPA more than 30 times in the past decade to tear down clean air and climate protections.
- Nancy Beck, who is shaping policy on hazardous chemicals, came to the EPA straight from the American Chemistry Council, whose members include Dow, Monsanto, and ExxonMobil, and had long advocated for weaker EPA toxics rules.
- Andrew Wheeler, a climate-denying coal lobbyist, has been confirmed by the Senate—Pruitt’s second-in-command.
- Susan Bodine, who leads the office that enforces cleanup rules, spent part of her career defending companies affected by those cleanup rules.
- Erik Baptist, the agency’s senior deputy counsel, was a top lawyer at the American Petroleum Institute.
- Peter C. Wright, nominated to oversee the EPA’s Superfund hazardous waste cleanup program, has worked at Dow Chemical since 1999.
Stamping Out Science
In his crusade to advance the agenda of polluting industries, Pruitt is gagging scientists and suppressing scientific evidence that buttresses the case for protecting our health and environment. With science swept under the rug, Pruitt can more easily tear down the safeguards that protect us from smog, drinking water contamination, chemical plant disasters, oil spills, bee-killing pesticides, and climate-wrecking power plant pollution.
- Pruitt is purging the EPA’s scientific advisory boards and committees of those experts who receive research grants from the agency—primarily independent scientists from universities. He is replacing them with industry insiders and science deniers, further ensuring that EPA decisions will be slanted toward protecting polluters, not the public.
- Two Pruitt-picked members of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board received oil industry funding for research that casts doubt on the health effects of air pollution. That research has been used in efforts to roll back clean car standards
- Pruitt has enshrined climate denial in EPA policy, deleting all references to climate change in the EPA’s new, four-year strategic plan. Previously, addressing climate change and air pollution was the agency’s number one priority.
- Pruitt’s EPA has scrubbed its website of direct links to vital materials that would help local officials prepare for extreme weather and other impacts of climate change.
- Pruitt’s EPA has stopped some of its own scientists from publicly speaking about the dangers of climate change.
- EPA staffers have been instructed to downplay the links between human activity and climate change, a position that mirrors Pruitt's own climate denial and flies in the face of international scientific consensus.
- Pruitt has put a political operative in charge of reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in EPA grants and has instructed grant officers to delete references to climate change in grant solicitations.
- Pruitt’s EPA is cooking the books on the science and economics of air, water, and climate pollution in order to diminish the benefits of environmental protections like the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule that he is trying to revoke.
- Pruitt plans to eliminate an EPA program that studies the effects of pollution and chemical exposure on children.
- Pruitt took the unheard-of step of challenging another agency’s scientists when the National Marine Fisheries Service found that the use of two pesticides—chlorpyrifos and malathion—could endanger the survival of 38 species of salmon and other fish.
- Pruitt is advancing a deceptive proposal that would drastically restrict the scientific research available for developing new environmental safeguards, making it much harder to issue such protections. Under the proposed policy, researchers would be required to make private personal medical information available to the public in order for the EPA to use that research in its decision-making. Since so many scientific studies rely on private, confidential medical records, as a result, this proposal would drastically limit the peer-reviewed science that regulators can use to craft future EPA rules.
- Pruitt’s EPA and the White House tried blocking publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis after an administration aide warned it would cause a "public relations nightmare.” The Health and Human Services study showed chemicals contaminating water supplies near military bases and chemical plants and causing harm to human health at much lower levels than previously thought. The study remains unpublished. And in another example of Pruitt’s shocking lack of transparency, the EPA initially barred reporters from some media outlets, like the AP and CNN, from attending a national EPA summit on toxic chemicals in May. On the agenda for the event, among many other topics, was the subject of the blocked report on contaminated drinking water.
- New emails acquired through the Freedom of Information Act show Pruitt closely coordinating with well-known climate-denier group the Heartland Institute to support the administrator’s policy agenda of rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change and of rolling back action to reduce climate pollution.
Destroying Public Confidence in the EPA
Pruitt is “ruling” the EPA in a manner more befitting a potentate than a public servant—operating in secrecy, silencing employees, and spending lavishly on himself. While Pruitt calls for draconian cuts in environmental programs, he has been wasting taxpayer dollars in extravagant ways that are now the target of multiple government investigations. His unethical and possibly illegal behavior is crushing the morale of career employees and damaging—perhaps fatally—the public’s faith in the EPA to do its job.
- A General Accounting Office report found that Pruitt's EPA violated the law when he misused taxpayer dollars to install a new, $25,000 soundproof phone booth in the agency’s headquarters. Total cost for the project now appears to be closer to $43,000.
- Pruitt is surrounded 24/7 by a security detail of 30 bodyguards. New figures show that Pruitt’s security expenditures are costing taxpayers $4.6 million a year, nearly double the security costs for his predecessors Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson.
- Pruitt's security expenditures include nearly $3,000 for "tactical pants" and "tactical polos," raising even more questions about the appropriateness of Pruitt's security-related expenses.
- In order to shield his secretive actions from scrutiny, Pruitt has reportedly banned some agency staff from bringing cell phones to meetings with him or from taking notes.
- Pruitt has systematically shut out the EPA’s staff of scientists and experts from policymaking decisions, launched an intimidation campaign to keep them from going public with their concerns, and ordered the floor to his office locked, accessible to career staff only by escort.
- Pruitt spent $120,000—via a no-bid contract—to hire a Republican opposition research firm, Definers Public Affairs, to monitor media coverage of the EPA. After it was disclosed that an affiliated company, America Rising, was working to identify, monitor, and dig up dirt on EPA employees who had criticized Pruitt or Trump, the contract was canceled.
- Pruitt is under investigation by the EPA’s inspector general for lobbying on behalf of the mining industry while employed as a public servant.
- The EPA’s inspector general is also investigating Pruitt’s trip to Morocco in December, reportedly aimed at promoting exports of natural gas—which is not the EPA administrator's job. The trip was partly arranged by Richard Smotkin, a longtime friend of Pruitt’s and former Comcast lobbyist who since that trip landed a $40,000-a-month contract with the Moroccan government promoting its cultural and economic interests. The Washington Post found that it’s “highly unusual” for trips like these to be organized by outside interests, and the trip cost taxpayers more than $100,000, including $16,217 for Pruitt’s airfare.
- Following his appearance in a video produced by an industry group that opposes the Clean Water Rule, Pruitt came under investigation by the Government Accountability Office for violations of restrictions on lobbying and propaganda.
- Pruitt is under investigation by the EPA’s inspector general for taking private and military flights that cost taxpayers more than $58,000.
- More recently, it emerged that Pruitt billed taxpayers for nearly $200,000 in travel expenses over six months in 2017, including frequent trips home to Oklahoma. Much of that travel was on first-class and business-class flights, including a lavish trip to Italy that included cooking classes and private tours of the Vatican after Pruitt spent only a few hours at a two-day G7 meeting.
- During Pruitt’s trip to the Vatican, he dined with Cardinal George Pell, a prominent Vatican leader who was facing sexual abuse allegations. Two weeks later, Pell was charged with sexual assault. The EPA covered up the meeting, according to agency officials. Cardinal Pell is also a prominent climate denier.
- While in Washington, Pruitt pays just $50-per-night in a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of a major fossil fuel industry lobbyist with clients, like Exxon Mobil, with interests before the EPA. This $50 rental rate is an enormous discount from market rental rates in the area.
- Emails provided to the Sierra Club as the result of a lawsuit indicate that Pruitt’s staff communicated with J. Stevens Hart on many issues, including potentially hiring a Hart family friend for an EPA job, as well as regulatory matters before the agency. The emails show a closer relationship between the two than Pruitt has previously acknowledged.
- The EPA’s inspector general found that Pruitt’s chief of staff approved large pay raises of two of Pruitt’s top aides—despite the White House’s rejection of the raises—by using an obscure hiring provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act that doesn’t require White House approval. In a Fox News interview in early April, Pruitt denied knowing about the unusual salary increases. However, while appearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on April 26, 2018, Pruitt conceded he did in fact know of these pay raises.
- According to a New York Times report, at least five high-ranking officials at EPA were reassigned, placed on leave, or dismissed after questioning Pruitt’s spending and management decisions. While appearing before a House subcommittee hearing on April 26, 2018, Pruitt denied allegations that employees were retaliated against for raising questions about spending concerns.
- Kevin Chmielewsky, Pruitt’s former EPA deputy chief of staff, told congressional investigators that Pruitt routinely directed staffers to book expensive hotels, help him earn frequent flier miles, and schedule meetings to align with his personal travel desires. Mr. Chmielewsky told ABC News that he was “100 percent” forced out after raising these concerns and that Pruitt told a “boldfaced lie” when denying this to Congress.
- Albert Kelly, whom Pruitt picked to run the EPA's Superfund program, resigned from the agency under scrutiny on May 1, 2018. Mr. Kelly had little or no experience working on Superfund-related issues but was a longtime business associate of Pruitt's from Oklahoma and previously worked in banking before being fined by the FDIC and barred from working in the finance industry.
- Pruitt’s now chief of staff Ryan Jackson directed EPA staff to consider opening new office space in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Pruitt’s hometown, that would include 24/7 security and a facility for secure communications, raising additional questions about Pruitt’s excessive spending and the outsized amount of time he spends in his home state.
- Pruitt is now seeking to establish a legal defense fund to help defray the cost of his own legal expenses—because he’s currently the subject of 11 federal investigations.
- An examination of Pruitt’s EPA email accounts has shown only one email message he wrote to anyone outside of the agency during his first 10 months in office, suggesting he is communicating privately with outside interests, likely including polluting industries, and is seeking to duck accountability. Pruitt previously used a personal email account to conduct official business when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, showing a potential pattern of inappropriate conduct.
- Pruitt received courtside basketball tickets last December from a billionaire coal executive whose company has been successfully lobbying the EPA for rollbacks.
We do not take lightly our call to fire Scott Pruitt. NRDC has disagreed—frequently and respectfully—with EPA administrators of both parties. But Pruitt’s egregious actions across multiple fronts seem coordinated and designed to ensure that the EPA fails in its mission of protecting our health and environment. For that singular reason, we feel compelled to demand that President Trump take the extraordinary step of firing him.