Many Wyomingites have welcomed President Donald Trump’s focus on rolling back regulations. We hope they’ll also join in welcoming last week’s exit of embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
President Trump has accurately described Washington, D.C., as a swamp — a morass of lobbyists, bureaucrats and politicians involved in endless, self-serving rounds of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
Without question, Pruitt became a part of this system.
We don’t have the space to detail all of Pruitt’s unscrupulous actions — he’s facing more than a dozen investigations — but to name just a few, the administrator blew roughly $43,000 of taxpayer money on a soundproof phone booth for his office, had aides help his wife arrange business deals and tried to hide what he was doing by keeping a secret calendar. In another galling action outlined by The Atlantic, Pruitt’s team abused a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to approve massive raises for two staffers (from $107,425 to $164,200 and from $86,460 to $114,590) after the White House rejected them.
Laura Ingraham, a conservative pundit, talk show host and Trump advocate, hit the nail on the head a couple days before the administrator’s resignation:
“Pruitt is the swamp,” Ingraham tweeted. “Drain it.”
In contrast, as the allegations against Pruitt piled up, we were disappointed with the relative silence from our Republican Congressional delegation — and particularly from U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Even after Pruitt’s departure, Barrasso expressed ambivalence about the administrator’s performance.
“During Administrator Pruitt’s tenure, the agency has rolled back punishing regulations that were hurting American workers and stifling our economy,” Barrasso said in a statement. “It has become increasingly challenging for the EPA to carry out its mission with the administrator under investigation. President Trump made the right decision to accept his resignation.”
Like Pruitt did in his Thursday letter of resignation, Barrasso framed the issue as being with the investigations themselves — that all the work of checking into whether Pruitt had violated laws and policies was hurting the agency. But the real problem was with Pruitt’s misconduct.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that our Congressional delegation would have been a whole lot tougher on Pruitt’s misconduct if he was, say, a Democrat placing burdensome new regulations on our state’s farmers and minerals industry.
This is very much a “partisan” issue, in the sense that character can go by the wayside whenever people become more dedicated to their party or tribe than to integrity. But it’s a problem that stretches across all political ideologies and parties.
Consider the recent case of former New York Attorney State General Eric Schneiderman. The Democrat and adversary of President Trump resigned in May, after The New Yorker reported allegations from four women who said he’d abused them years earlier. One of the women explained how several friends had “advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose,” writers Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow recounted in The New Yorker piece.
In a similar vein, Pruitt’s defenders long argued that his strong work on behalf of the Trump administration outweighed his ethical blunders. We disagree — and don’t accept that we have to choose between competence and character.
In the case of the EPA, we simply can’t believe that Scott Pruitt is the only person in America capable of pursuing a business-friendly agenda at the agency. In fact, if the president is looking for someone, we can think of people right here in Wyoming who could tackle that task while acting in an ethical way.
Politics inspire cynicism, but this election season, don’t be afraid to demand both integrity and results from your public officials.