The embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency resigned on Thursday in the face of multiple ethics scandals. President Trump has announced that EPA deputy Andrew Wheeler will replace Scott Pruitt as head of the agency for now — but Wheeler has some controversial ties of his own.
"The Senate confirmed Deputy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, will on Monday assume duties as the acting Administrator of the EPA," Trump tweeted on Thursday after announcing Pruitt's resignation. "I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!"
Pruitt had drawn fire from Democrats and Republicans for months over multiple, unrelated allegations of unethical conduct. BuzzFeed reports that by the time he resigned, Pruitt was the subject of over a dozen investigations by Congress, the White House, the Special Counsel's office, and various government watchdogs.
Like most of Trump's environmental appointees, Pruitt is a climate change skeptic, and rejects the widely-accepted conclusion in the scientific community that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to rising global temperatures. Wheeler's past statements and professional background suggests that he's in roughly the same ideological corner as Pruitt.
A former lobbyist for the coal industry, Wheeler served for years as chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe, who once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in an attempt to prove that global warming isn't real. In 2010, Wheeler argued that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "has functioned more as a political body than a scientific body," and should be subject to a "full investigation" for excluding the opinions of scientists who deny climate change. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Wheeler said that he believes "man has an impact on the climate, but what is not completely understood is what the impact is."
According to the New York Times, many who know him believe that Wheeler will be more effective than Pruitt as the head of the EPA, as he has decades of experience working in Washington and is known for keeping a low-profile. But although he'll take over Pruitt's duties as EPA chief on Monday, it's not clear how long Wheeler will stay there, as he told the Washington Examiner in June that he isn't interested in the top job.
"I am not thinking about it, no,” Wheeler said. “I am the deputy administrator. That’s the job I wanted and that’s the job I have. I could have tried to be the administrator. I could have put my hat in the ring for the administrator. I wasn’t interested in that. I am still not interested in that. I am the deputy administrator and that is what I am focused on doing.” As for who will replace Pruitt on a permanent basis, there is no shortage of candidates.
Pruitt had drawn criticism for months leading up to his resignation over various accusations of wrongdoing. During his time as EPA chief, Pruitt spent $43,000 of taxpayer money on a private phone booth, an expenditure that the Government Accountability Office later determined was illegal. He also asked his staff to try and get his wife a job at Chick-fil-A, according to the Washington Post, and do personal errands for him. In the first year of Pruitt's tenure, the EPA spent over $3 million on his security detail — over a million more than either of his last two predecessors, according to the Post.
In his resignation letter to Trump, Pruitt said the "the unrelenting attacks" on him were responsible for his resignation, and credited God with his appointment to the EPA.
"I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence," Pruitt wrote. "I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to."