by Jim Lane
In Washington, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned.
US President Donald Trump announced the exit on Twitter, commenting, “President Donald Trump announced Pruitt’s exit, saying on Twitter “I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”
Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler becomes acting administrator.
The Digest’s Take
Elsewhere in the media, it is widely reported that Pruitt was undone by a growing number of controversies and investigations relating to his conduct as EPA Administrator, particularly relating to allegations of self-dealing and using EPA aides for personal tasks. Examples are here, here and here. The frame fits the facts, but doesn’t explain the timing. Our take? The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the US Supreme Court, we think, is a factor that should be highlighted.
Given the President’s avowed list of potential Supreme Court nominees, almost no support for confirmation could be expected from Democrats in a closely-divided US Senate. That puts Senate farm-state Republicans — including the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley — into a position of strength in the months-long battle by farmers to stop attacks by the EPA on the Renewable Fuel Standard, and to move the EPA ahead on approval for E15 ethanol year-long blending. It might be read as no accident that Senator Grassley issued a swift statement supporting the Pruitt ouster and citing two factors:
“President Trump made the right decision. Administrator Pruitt’s ethical scandals and his undermining of the President’s commitment to biofuels and Midwest farmers were distracting from the agency’s otherwise strong progress to free the nation of burdensome and harmful government regulations.”
For sure, there are widespread reports of displeasure and weariness at the White House with the narrative surrounding Administrator Pruitt. But why act now? We think the need to rally the GOP around a successful Supreme Court Justice confirmation is a frame that not only fits the facts, it fits the timing and fits the narrative coming out of the Senate and not just the White House press corps.
The Pruitt biofuels backstory
In May, we reported in “Trump in a pickle: support his beleaguered EPA Administrator over oil refinery bailouts, or rally his Midwestern farm-state base?” of the biofuels brouhaha that was beginning to lay a shadow over GOP efforts to bolster farm-state support as November elections begin to draw near. At the time, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa tweeted:
“I’ve supported Pruitt but if he pushes changes to RFS that permanently cut ethanol by billions of gallons he will have broken Trump promise & he should step down & let someone else do the job of implementing Trump agenda if he refuses.”
Grassley explicitly called on Pruitt to back a key campaign pledge from 2016 that helped unlock farm state support and propel Trump into the White House.
1/19/16 Trump at IA Renewable fuels summit: EPA shld make sure blend levels match statutory level set by Congress THAT’S 15B GALLONS/Pruitt shld work hard to make sure he doesn’t undercut the president’s support of ethanol.
Pruitt had also been the subject of numerous investigations at the federal and state level stemming from travel, budget, and transparency issues, although the embattled EPA head had enjoyed support from anti-regulatory and anti-environmental forces.
In May, we reported that United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) sent letters to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and Carl Icahn, billionaire former adviser to President Trump and Chairman of CVR Energy Inc., to request information on reports that the EPA granted CVR an “economic hardship waiver” from the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The senators have previously raised concerns about Icahn’s actions related to the RFS and his access to key Administration RFS decision makers when he was a White House special adviser.
In June, we reported that the American Coalition for Ethanol is pretty teed off that “despite repeated public endorsements from the White House to allow the sale of E15 unleaded gasoline year-round, EPA has taken no action to lift the outdated regulatory barrier prior to today’s start of the low Reid vapor pressure (RVP) season. E15 was tested and approved in 2011 for use in any car or light truck from model year 2001 and newer. EPA’s interpretation of RVP regulations effectively bans the sale of lower cost, higher octane E15 from June 1 through September 15, even though E15 has lower RVP and emissions than the gasoline sold in most markets each summer.”
“President Trump made the right decision. Administrator Pruitt’s ethical scandals and his undermining of the President’s commitment to biofuels and Midwest farmers were distracting from the agency’s otherwise strong progress to free the nation of burdensome and harmful government regulations. Fewer things are more important for government officials than maintaining public trust. Administrator Pruitt, through his own actions, lost that trust. I hope Acting Administrator Wheeler views this as an opportunity to restore this Administration’s standing with farmers and the biofuels industry. I’m looking forward to working with Acting Administrator Wheeler to do just that.”
“The EPA plays an important role in implementing policies that have a great impact on our industry. For that reason, we look forward to working with Mr. Wheeler and hope he will act more in line with President Trump’s support for America’s farmers, biofuels producers and the Renewable Fuel Standard.”
National Corn Growers Association president Kevin Skunes
“It’s no secret corn farmers have been frustrated with Scott Pruitt’s ongoing actions over the past year that have seriously undermined the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Even with this leadership change at the EPA, our priorities do not change. We will continue to push the EPA to stop granting unjustified RFS waivers. We expect the EPA to account for the more than 1.6 billion gallons the agency waived from 2016 and 2017 RFS obligations, and we will continue ask EPA to follow through on the president’s commitment to remove outdated regulations to allow higher blends of ethanol like E15 to be sold year-round. We are hopeful Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will work with America’s corn farmers to give consumers more options at the pump to save them money and reduce emissions and provide farmers with certainty in the marketplace that comes with RFS integrity.”
Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor
“Administrator Pruitt’s tenure as administrator of the EPA put a heavy strain on this administration’s relationship with supporters, farmers, and biofuel producers across the heartland. We urge the EPA under the new leadership of acting Administrator Wheeler to reinforce those bonds and work as a partner to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the White House in efforts to revitalize rural communities and unleash American biofuels. He can start today by reversing the demand destruction caused by EPA waivers, acting on the president’s pledge to unlock E15, and upholding a strong Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).”
Advanced Biofuels Business Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman
“Scott Pruitt’s decisions on biofuels drove a wedge between President Trump and his backers in the Midwest. We’re very hopeful this will open a new chapter in the relationship between the EPA and rural communities. Andrew Wheeler could very easily come out of the gate strong by acting on the president’s pledge to lift regulations on E15 and halting abuse of refinery waivers. It would earn him a deep and loyal bench of supporters across rural America.”
New Energy America Executive Director Mike Carr
“While today’s resignation of Scott Pruitt is undoubtedly a victory for the environment and against corruption in government, it should also stand as a stark warning to other members of the Cabinet. As we’ve been saying, putting your personal and political agendas ahead of the real interests of voters will come back to bite you. While reporters will enjoy citing the salacious details of the scandals, they’ve been there from day one of his ethically-challenged tenure. It’s been the revelation over the last weeks of the depth of the damage he’s done to the Renewable Fuel Standard and the related jobs in the heartland that took Scott Pruitt down. Now, the rest of the Administration have to deal with the tremendous damage Scott Pruitt’s waivers have done to the renewable fuels industry and the rural economies that rely on biofuels. Until this damage is undone, Pruitt’s actions will continue to lie at the feet of the President and the Republican Party.”
Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook
“Scott Pruitt will go down in history as a disgrace to the office of EPA administrator. He will forever be associated with extraordinary ethical corruption and the abuse of power for petty personal enrichments. Sadly, the ideological fervor with which Pruitt pursued the destruction of environmental regulations and the agency itself live on in the Trump administration. So while Pruitt is gone, and good riddance, our resistance to all he stood for will continue undiminished.”
American Energy Alliance President Thomas J. Pyle
American Future Fund founder Nick Ryan
“Scott Pruitt was an embarrassment to Republicans, and President Trump made the right call by getting rid of him,” said Nick Ryan, AFF’s founder. “The EPA administrator should be someone focused more on the president’s agenda than scoring personal luxuries at the expense of taxpayers. Hopefully, the EPA will now become a true partner to lawmakers working to promote real prosperity in the heartland.”
Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas CEO Johannes Escudero
“The RNG Coalition looks forward to working constructively with Acting Administrator Wheeler to ensure that the Renewable Fuel Standard continues to benefit the American people, our economy and the environment by growing domestic production of biofuels like renewable natural gas and reducing dependence on foreign oil.”
Latino Victory Fund President Cristóbal J. Alexon
“Back in April, Latino Victory joined a group of organizations calling on EPA Administrator Pruitt to resign. Pruitt’s cuts to the EPA directly hurt communities of color across the United States. His self-interest and self-dealing hurt the agency and mission he swore to uphold. We cannot even begin to fully evaluate the damage Pruitt has wreaked on our environment and our community. This is not the last time we will hear about Scott Pruitt, there must be legal ramifications for the many investigations that arose during his tenure. His successor should know that we are watching him closely.”