By BRYAN PIETSCH
WASHINGTON – Arizona Democrats and environmental groups on Thursday welcomed the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who aggressively rolled back agency regulations even as he was dogged by ethical questions.
The news was widely cheered by people like Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, who when asked for a reaction to the news said, “Other than, ‘Hooray’?”
“It was way past time for him to go,” Bahr said. “We are glad he has resigned and what we are looking for now is an EPA administrator who understands the importance of protecting our health and our environment.”
President Donald Trump said in a tweet Thursday that Pruitt would be replaced on an acting basis by Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former fossil-fuel industry lobbyist and one-time Hill staffer, who will take over on Monday.
Pruitt’s resignation was announced in the same tweet by Trump, who said he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation, and thanked him for his service.
“Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Trump’s tweet said. “We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”
Environmental groups didn’t see it that way – the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity said “good riddance” in a statement on the resignation – noting that Pruitt oversaw the rollbacks of many EPA policies on air and water quality, clean-car standards and more.
But Pruitt’s ethical problems often overshadowed his policy decisions, with various media reports of excessive spending, secret calendars and improper requests to aides, who were reportedly asked to run personal errands and to help his wife get a job in Washington.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, called Pruitt’s actions a “shameless and truly weird form of corruption” in a tweet after the resignation was announced.
“We need to hold every public official accountable to taxpayers, even if their tastes don’t include used mattresses and fancy hand lotion,” Gallego tweeted, referring to reports that Pruitt asked his scheduling director to ask about buying a used mattress from the Trump Hotel.
Other Arizona Democrats chimed in, criticizing the EPA administrator over his ethical challenges.
“The sad truth is that Mr. Pruitt is exactly the kind of person President Trump believes should run our government: someone who lies, abused his office, enriches himself and his family at taxpayer expense,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, in a statement from the House Natural Resources Committee.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, called the resignation “long overdue.”
“I am pleased that Mr. Pruitt has stepped down from an appointed position he has used to waste taxpayer money and continually betray the trust of the American people, ignoring completely the EPA’s aim to preserve our environment and natural resources,” O’Halleran said in a statement.
Republicans in the Arizona congressional delegation did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday, but Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, praised Pruitt earlier this year, calling him “an important part of the ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda.”
“It should come as no surprise that a lynch mob of opportunistic politicians and certain members of the media are doing everything they can to remove him from office,” Gosar said in an April statement from the Congressional Western Caucus. “I stand with EPA Administrator Pruitt and am grateful for everything he has done for the American people to get our economy going again.”
While Pruitt is on the way out, environmental groups said they don’t expect much change under a Wheeler-led EPA.
“We need somebody who believes in the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental protection being key,” Bahr said. “Mr. Wheeler does not seem to be that person.”
-Cronkite News reporter Dani Coble contributed to this report.
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