Scott Pruitt Has Betrayed the Mission, the National Interest and the Public Trust
As Americans, we have a right to expect that the people we entrust with public service will work toward good governance, put the national interest first, advance the mission they're given, and do so with integrity.
As administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt has a single overriding responsibility: to protect the environment and public health. Instead, he's protecting big polluters as he moves to delay or weaken needed safeguards at the direct behest of one industrial lobbyist after another.
As a senior official in the executive branch, he has an obligation to work on behalf of the people. Instead, he's setting the public interest aside, putting special interests first, and making the public pay the price.
And in his role overseeing the work of some 15,000 professional staffers, he has a duty to set an example of good judgment and ethical conduct. Instead, he's become the administration's poster boy for repeated lapses in both.
There's his sweetheart condo deal with the wife of a fossil fuel lobbyist. And his insistence on flying first class when the taxpayers are buying the ticket, citing security concerns that somehow vanish when Pruitt pays the fare for personal flights home to Oklahoma. On Tuesday we learned that an inquiry by the EPA's own Homeland Security office could find no evidence of any security threat that might justify the estimated $3 million in taxpayer money spent so far on Pruitt's security detail.
Small wonder he's become a late-night punchline. There's nothing funny, though, about the damage he's trying to do to the EPA and its capacity to protect the public from the real threats of toxic pollution and industrial ruin.
Pruitt's greatest affront to the country is his single-minded effort to weaken, delay or do away with the EPA standards and rules that defend our air and water, protect us from toxic pesticides and chemicals, and enable us to fight the growing dangers of climate change.
Those commonsense safeguards are grounded in sound science, the public interest, and the rule of law, as Pruitt is finding out in our courts. That hasn't stopped him from trying to gut those protections, and this is more than reason enough to fire him.
The way Pruitt conducts himself in office, though, warrants termination on ethical grounds. On Monday evidence emerged that Pruitt can't be taken at his word, when two EPA staffers told The Atlantic of an email showing that Pruitt personally authorized a $56,765 raise for a favored aide after the White House rejected the increase as inappropriate. Pruitt last week blamed the incident on "my staff," claimed he did not know who was responsible, and told Fox News that "the officials that were involved in that process should not have done what they did."
In response to the contradictory email, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson put out a carefully worded statement, saying "Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired. These kind of personnel actions are handled by EPA's HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me."
The issue here, of course, isn't process. It's integrity. We're being asked to imagine Pruitt was somehow unaware that one of his closest aides was getting a ludicrous raise over White House objections. Even in Washington, that's not how it works.
The email controversy broke just hours after it was reported that the senior ethics official in the U.S. government―appointed by President Trump―had sent a scathing letter to his EPA counterpart, demanding to know whether Pruitt's long trail of ethical controversies had compromised his ability to serve with "impartiality" and whether Pruitt "is using his public office for private gain."
In the letter, David J. Apol, acting director and general counsel of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, cited what he called "extremely concerning reports" that at least five EPA staffers who objected to Pruitt's imperious requests for lavish spending and special privilege were later demoted or reassigned or sought different jobs.
EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski was placed on leave without pay for pushing back on Pruitt's requests for spending on things like a $100,000-a-month fee to share a private jet or $70,000 for office furniture, including a bulletproof desk for the armed security agent stationed at all times within Pruitt's office suite.
Eric Weese was demoted from his position as head of Pruitt's security detail after refusing Pruitt's demand that he turn on emergency lights and a siren on a government-owned SUV to whisk the administrator to the airport and to dinner at his favorite French restaurant.
"If true," wrote the ethics chief, "it is hard to imagine any action that could more effectively undermine an agency's integrity than punishing or marginalizing employees who strive to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that safeguard that integrity."
For Pruitt, destroying the integrity of the EPA has been job one since day one.
Pruitt came to office with zero credibility as an environmental advocate. Indeed, he built a career taking the EPA to court in an effort to hobble the agency on behalf of oil, gas, and coal companies. Now he's an embarrassment―if not to Trump, then to the entire country.
In his letter, Apol may have put it best. "The success of our Government," he wrote, "depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve."
Scott Pruitt has betrayed that trust. He cannot earn it back. It's time we bought him one last ticket home to Oklahoma―in coach.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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