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Sierra Club’s Mary Anne Hitt says Pruitt’s long list of scandals is only matched by his long list of attempted environmental rollbacks, and new acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler will advance the same deregulatory agenda

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DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday amidst numerous allegations of ethical and legal violations. Trump announced Pruitt’s resignation via Twitter, where he also said that EPA Deputy Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler will assume the role of acting administrator this Monday. Just hours before Pruitt resigned, two congressmen called upon the EPA’s inspector general to investigate allegations that Pruitt has been hiding and falsifying calendar records of his meetings with industry officials. And these came in a slew of new allegations reported by The Washington Post on Monday. Aides also said that the administrator asked EPA staffers to help his wife get a six-figure job, and to perform many other nonofficial tasks.

Here to talk about all of this is Mary Anne Hitt. She’s the director of the Beyond Coal Campaign at the Sierra Club. Thanks for joining us today.

MARY ANNE HITT: Thanks for having me.

DHARNA NOOR: So first let’s talk a little bit about what we’re losing in Scott Pruitt. Let’s assess his record a little bit. So as you know, and many of you probably know, on Monday a schoolteacher named Kristen Mink actually confronted Pruitt in a D.C. restaurant and asked him to resign. Let’s see that clip.

KRISTIN MINK: I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment in our country. Meanwhile, you’re slashing strong 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: So Mink castigated Pruitt for being a climate denier, for attacking clean air and water standards, for renting a condo from the spouse of a prominent fossil fuel lobbyist with whom he was in talks. This was just as a reminder at the time that he actually approved the Alberta Clipper pipeline, allowing hundreds of thousands more barrels of oil per day to flow to the United States from Canada’s tar sands. Talk a little bit about his record generally, and what Pruitt’s environmental impact was, and about his deregulatory agenda.

MARY ANNE HITT: Well, let me say first that I am a mom of an 8-year-old, and I found it very heartwarming when that mom stood up and I think said what a lot of us moms wish we could say to Scott Pruitt in person, which is that it’s our clean air and our clean water and the very safety of our kids that is on the line. And Scott Pruitt from day one in office was, frankly, working to dismantle the EPA. It was his life’s work formerly as the Oklahoma attorney general to try to find shortcuts or loopholes around our clean air and clean water standards, and from his first day on the job he began working at the behest of polluters to do just that.

And in doing so, if that wasn’t bad enough, he also was just-. It was just, frankly, a bottomless pit of scandals, of corruption, from multi-hundred dollar fountain pens, to accepting cheap rent from a lobbyist for a fossil fuel company, to tactical paants that were bought for him for the price of hundreds of dollars a pair. So it was really, frankly, I think-. Again, as a mom, as someone who’s worried about the safety of your air and water, the fact that he was that corrupt in his personal dealings was one thing. The fact that he was playing fast and loose with the water that we all drink and the air that we all breathe was what was truly scary about Scott Pruitt.

DHARNA NOOR: Talk a little bit more about what some of the impacts that he had were on clean air and clean water regulations. Talk a little bit more specifically about what some of his legacies will be, moving on from the EPA.

MARY ANNE HITT: Well, the long list of Scott Pruitt’s ethical scandals is only matched by a long list of air and water and climate regulations that he tried to roll back in his tenure at EPA. Everything from standards for how to dispose of toxic coal ash safely so it doesn’t end up in the drinking water, so you don’t have things like arsenic in your drinking water from coal ash, to the first ever climate standards that we had as a nation to reduce climate pollution from power plants. He was working to repeal and revoke those. You can talk about the safety of pesticides. You can talk about-. Really, Scott Pruitt never met an environmental regulation that he didn’t want to try to roll back or repeal. And the good news, if there is any, is that he didn’t get too far in that agenda. A lot of what he was trying to do, we believe, was illegal. And the Sierra Club and other groups were challenging him in court every step of the way. So he set a lot of bad things in motion. And we are worried that Andrew Wheeler, the number two at the EPA who is now in charge, will continue on that toxic agenda. But we also are very determined to fight them every step of the way.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit more about Andrew Wheeler. Again, he’s a former coal lobbyist. And I understand that your organization actually obtained emails between him and Scott Pruitt through the Freedom of Information Act. What did you find from those emails, and what do you generally expect from him as an EPA administrator?

MARY ANNE HITT: Well, I want to give a special shoutout to our attorneys and press folks at the Sierra Club. They paged through, I am not kidding you, almost 60000 pages of FOIA documents from the EPA that are the source of the information about a lot of these scandals that you saw on the news and you wrote about on the front pages of the newspaper. And Wheeler and Pruitt were definitely partners in crime, working to advance this agenda of rolling back our environmental safeguards that they’re going to continue full speed ahead with Wheeler at the helm, to try to get that agenda over the finish line. And we are going to be fighting at the Sierra Club and with all of our partners every step of the way to prevent that from happening. Because it really is, you know, just as the mom who confronted Scott Pruitt in the restaurant put it so so beautifully, it’s our kids future. It’s the safety of the water we drink and the air that we breathe. And that, that is what they are playing fast and loose with to benefit their polluter buddies.

DHARNA NOOR: And then, lastly, how can people hold the EPA administrator, whether it’s Pruitt, Wheeler, or somebody else accountable? What are some actions that people can take to ensure that, you know, we don’t have another EPA administrator like Scott Pruitt? Is that even possible?

MARY ANNE HITT: Well, the Sierra Club tonight is reaching out to all of our members and supporters and asking them to call their members of Congress, because Congress is the agency that does have oversight over the EPA. And obviously Trump is happy to have folks reading the EPA doing the bidding of polluters. And so our check on that is the Congress. And Scott Pruitt did get a lot of a lot of very hard questions, increasingly hard questions, every time he appeared before the Congress and before the Senate. That was a lot of what put him on the hot seat and, again, exposed some of this corruption.

And so we’re going to be counting on members of Congress now to do the same thing with Wheeler who, again, he’s a coal lobbyist. He has a very long and not very pretty track record when it comes to clean air, clean water. He’s got the same agenda as Pruitt and Trump, which is to dismantle all of our environmental safeguards. And so folks should call their members of Congress and ask them to oppose Wheeler and Trump’s agenda, and to actually put someone in charge of EPA who will let the EPA do its job and fulfill its mission. I’m sure the very hardworking folks at EPA are breathing a sigh of relief tonight, and would just like to be able to do their jobs to make sure our air and water are safe. And the Congress needs to allow the EPA to do just that. That’s what the American people are counting on.

DHARNA NOOR: All right. Well, Marianne, as we see what Wheeler and others do in the EPA we’ll be sure to check in again with you. Thanks so much for coming on today.

MARY ANNE HITT: Thank you so much for having me.

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

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Mary Anne Hitt is Director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. She Leads, manages, and serves as spokesperson for the Beyond Coal Campaign while coordinating several teams that guide our work, including our campaign Leadership Team.
She also oversees and co-coordinates with Melinda Pierce (our Legislative Director) the campaign's top-down federal policy priorities, including our work around EPA rules. She lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia with her husband, Than, and her daughter Hazel.