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THE MAN WHO SOLD THE EARTH

SC0TT PRUITT, HEAD OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, CARES MUCH MORE ABOUT HIS NEXT POLITICAL OFFICE THAN HE DOES ABOUT OZONE LEVELS OR MELTING ICE CAPS
ENVIRONMENTAL CRUELTY During his presidential campaign, Trump vowed to blow up the EPA, and by appointing Pruitt to run the agency, he has made great progress toward that goal.
IMAGE BY CJ BURTON

FOR SOME0NE whose entire political career has been built on an animosity to Washington, D.C., Scott Pruitt appears to have enjoyed the past 12 months of federal employ. He has been to Morocco, where he shilled American natural gas. There was a trip to a golf resort in Naples, Florida, for a meeting of the National Mining Association. And to lovely Kiawah Island to join a retreat of the American Chemistry Council. Some bureaucrats may be relegated to the sad desk lunch, but Pruitt is not among them. When executives from a coal company were in town, they took Pruitt to BLT Prime, the restaurant at the Trump International Hotel that is the unofficial clubhouse of the Make America Great Again crowd.

Not bad—and not routine—for an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a post Pruitt has held since last February. Then again, the EPA has never been handed over to a chief who so unabashedly wants to enervate the agency—who actually works against protecting the environment— while serving transparent political goals. And, it should be added, the goal of the president who appointed him. Donald Trump promised, during the campaign, to abolish the EPA. Maybe that was bluster. Still, Pruitt will get him close.

Detractors know this, and they are furious. “Mr. Pruitt is jeopardizing the health and well-being of Americans, and many suspect he is doing it to feed his own political ambition,” argued the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean, in a New York Times op-ed. “President Trump should ire Scott Pruitt,” Kean wrote. He added, “Our children and grandchildren deserve better.”

Trump has not fired Pruitt, and he has little reason to do so, since Pruitt has proved himself a ruthlessly efficient member of the president’s Cabinet amid the administration’s well-documented chaos.

Last February, White House chief political strategist Steve Bannon promised a “deconstruction of the administrative state,” a drastic diminution of the federal government’s role in both public and private life. But deconstruction turned out to be tricky stuff, for which many of Trump’s Cabinet members don’t seem well-equipped. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign, due to his penchant for traveling by private jet—at a cost to taxpayers of $400,000. Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, is fending off similar scrutiny of his travel, not to mention unflattering reports of self-aggrandizing tendencies (issuing his own challenge coins and insisting on the hoisting of a departmental lag whenever he is at Interior’s headquarters). Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is rumored to be ever on the cusp of dismissal, his diplomatic style painfully out of place amidst Trumpian ire and fury. Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, was irrelevant in last year’s tax change efforts. Ben Carson, at Housing and Urban Development, openly declared he wasn’t suited for a Cabinet position. He got one anyway, even though he appears to know nothing about housing policy and is floating through his workweek. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sleeps through his.

But Pruitt has been Trump’s drama-free, Energizer bunny of a Cabinet appointee—his “most adept and dangerous hatchet man,” The Los Angeles Times deemed him—channeling the president’s wants without arousing his anger.

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The Man Who Sold the Earth - Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, cares more about his next political office than he does about melting ice caps or ozone levels.