YouTube video

Kristin Mink, who approached Scott Pruitt in a DC restaurant, says that she asked him to resign because of his climate-denying policies, not his corruption scandals

Story Transcript

DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor, joining you from Baltimore.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday, just hours after two Democratic congressmen called upon the EPA’s inspector general to investigate allegations that Pruitt had been hiding records of his meetings with industry officials. Pruitt was facing a number of allegations of ethical and legal misconduct. In his resignation letter to Donald Trump, Pruitt said, quote: The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented, and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.

Well, our next guest Kristin Mink actually suggested Scott Pruitt resign to his face just days before he did. She confronted Pruitt in a D.C. restaurant while holding her young child, and posted a video of the encounter online shortly after.

KRISTIN MINK: I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment in our country. This is my son. He loves animals, he loves clean air, clean water. Meanwhile, you’re slashing strong fuel standards for cars and trucks, for the benefits of big corporations. We deserve to have somebody at the EPA who actually does protect our environment, someone who believes in climate change and takes it seriously for the benefit of all of us, including our children. So I would urge you to resign before your scandals push you out.

DHARNA NOOR: Kristin is a mother and a teacher, and she’s joining us today on The Real News. Thanks for joining me today.

KRISTIN MINK: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

DHARNA NOOR: So what was it like to see the news just days after confronting Pruitt? Where were you when you found out, how did you find out, and how are you feeling?

KRISTIN MINK: I was home, I was on the phone doing an interview, and my husband shouted from the other room. Actually, he saw the tweet right away. I think a friend maybe texted him right away. And I, obviously I got off the interview immediately. And of course elation was the first feeling. Very exciting. That’s what we all want, right, is Scott Pruitt out his position of power. So it was exciting to think that had happened so quickly on the heels of our conversation; was, was very exciting, and felt very empowering in the moment.

Of course, then we went to see who his replacement was, and the elation faded very quickly, since, you know, he’s been replaced by a Washington insider, a coal lobbyist, Andy Wheeler, with the exact same agenda.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, so talk a little bit more about Andy Wheeler, and his history, what you expect from him. Again as you said, he’s a former coal lobbyist. He’s the second in line at the EPA. And he is a purported climate denier, as well. So talk a little bit more about why that sort of dampened your elation.

KRISTIN MINK: Yeah. So, I mean, of course all of the corruption that Scott Pruitt, you know, that’s come out about Scott Pruitt made it easier for us to get him out of office. It makes the whole scene much more distasteful. But my real problem with Scott Pruitt is with his policies, is with his agenda. With the fact that he is, you know, sacrificing clean air and clean water. You know, the future for the next generation, our very earth and humanity. He’s exchanging that for, you know, lining his own pockets, doing favors for his lobbyist friends, all that kind of thing. You know, he’s dismantling the EPA from the inside. He’s deregulating, he’s removing all the safety regulations that we’ve had in place for years.

And so, you know, the corruption, of course, is terrible. But the problem is with the agenda. And Andy Wheeler has the same agenda. And that was the purpose of, you know, that’s the purpose of having him step up and take Scott’s place. I mean, when, when Scott stepped down, Trump said himself that he did an outstanding job. And of course I disagree. America disagrees. And the fact that Trump is now going to be appointing somebody to just follow in Scott Pruitt’s footsteps and perhaps do so more effectively is very problematic. Andrew Wheeler has a lot of connections in Washington. He has a longstanding history there. Scott Pruitt was widely disliked. People did not like him as a person, and all of his scandals are hugely embarrassing for everyone. You know, even the Republicans couldn’t defend him publicly. Andy Wheeler doesn’t have that same problem. He’s a little more under the radar, a little more boring, if we’re going to be honest. He’s not going to draw the same kind of flashy, embarrassing, scandal-ridden attention that Scott Pruitt did. Meanwhile, he’s going to be enacting the same terrible agenda. He’s also still someone who doesn’t understand science, or who just denies it, because it doesn’t play to his advantage. So you know, we’re left with the exact same problem.

DHARNA NOOR: And you said, you know, that it’s really Pruitt’s policies that bothered you more than the corruption. But it’s worth noting, I guess, that these two things are very linked. I mean, just last year when the EPA approved the expansion of the Alberta Clipper, as you actually said to Scott Pruitt to his face, at the time for $50 a night Pruitt was renting a condominium in Washington, D.C. from the wife of a chairman of the energy lobbying firm Williams and Jensen, who was lobbying for the pipeline’s expansion.


DHARNA NOOR: So if we are expecting to see the same kinds of things from Andrew Wheeler, talk about what you think that people should be doing to sort of hold these officials accountable, sort of push back on these things. And what would you want to see from an EPA chief?

KRISTIN MINK: I mean, it’s right there in the title. Environmental protection is what I would love to see. And that’s exactly what we don’t have right now. So you know, I think that, I hope that the public keeps their eye on Andy Wheeler the way they had it on Scott Pruitt. I hope that all the negative attention that Scott Pruitt drew with his scandals, that kind of keeps the limelight on the position of the EPA administrator, even though it’s a different person. I hope that people are still focused on and caring about the environment.

At the same time, we have to know, we see that-. You know, this Congress, they approved Scott Pruitt, right, someone for this position. Someone who had literally sued the EPA, I think it was 14 times, for its efforts to regulate environmental protection, for its efforts to protect Americans, to protect the next generation, to protect our environment. He had sued the EPA for that. And this Congress approved his appointment to lead the agency. So I think we can safely say that Congress is not standing up for, is not going to stand up for the people. So I think what this tells us, if anything, is that we need to get to the polls in November. These midterms are really going to matter if we care about having clean air and clean water for children.

DHARNA NOOR: And lastly, I’d love to hear your response to the quote from Pruitt’s resignation letter to Trump, where he said: The unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll all of us. So, you confronted Scott Pruitt at a time when many have been having this debate about what civil conduct with politicians should be like, should look like. You were the most recent in a kind of a slew of people to confront politicians in public places to hold them accountable. Talk about the folks who are saying that what you did was uncivil. Do you think that his resignation sort of proves that your actions were justified and had a real impact?

KRISTIN MINK: If he doesn’t want to hear from the public he shouldn’t have a job as a public servant. So I’ll just say that, first of all. You know, I mean, we have the right, we have the responsibility. We pay our taxes. It means we pay his salary. That’s how it works. If you’re doing your job properly, you want to hear from the people that you’re serving. You know, he was spending tax dollars on first class tickets so he wouldn’t have to sit in the back with people who can’t afford to be in first class. What does that tell you about who he’s really serving, right.

So I think that the civility debate is really is a distraction. It’s a waste of time. It’s a distraction technique by the right. They don’t want us to focus on the issues. Obviously, you know, we saw the statement that Sarah Huckabee Sanders put out after our lunchtime discussion, saying that people should be able to eat their lunch and peace. And you know, Scott’s office put out a statement that he said thank you to me, you know, after, after we talked. Which I didn’t even hear, but good for him, if he said it. My two-year-old can also say thank you.

You know, it’s clear that they don’t want the conversation to be about what Scott Pruitt is doing to the environment and how Scott Pruitt is using taxpayer money, and you know, who is really benefiting from the moves the EPA making right now. They want the conversation to be about where and the when that we the constituents get to talk to the people serving us. So I think that the Dems need to stop engaging in that conversation. I think it’s a waste of time. I think we all as citizens need to know that we are allowed to have our voices heard, that it is our right and it’s a responsibility to do so, in whatever shape or form that looks like. Mine was that conversation that you saw, but I know other people have many different ways of speaking up and having their views and voices heard that are not violent. You know, these are just ways of having our voices heard. So I think people should not be afraid to do that, and that we should not worry about the whole civility debate. It’s a distraction technique.

DHARNA NOOR: All right. Kristin Mink, mom, teacher, confronted Scott Pruitt just this past Monday, just before he resigned. Thanks so much for being with us today.

KRISTIN MINK: Thanks for having me.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.