EPA chief Scott Pruitt quits amid a crush of scandals

President Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Thursday that he had accepted the resignation

FILE PHOTO:    EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2019 for the Environmental Protection Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

Scott Pruitt has resigned as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after a deluge of damaging revelations about his spending, travel and a property rental that prompted Republican politicians to distance themselves and question his continued effectiveness.

President Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Thursday that he had accepted the resignation. “Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job and I will always be thankful to him for this,” Mr Trump said.

It is a dramatic turn of fortune for Mr Pruitt, who was celebrated by conservatives for zealously attacking the EPA as Oklahoma's attorney general. Once he arrived in Washington, he acquired a national profile for moving to dismantle Obama era regulations on climate change and air pollution.

A former coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, will take over the agency as acting administrator on Monday, Mr Trump said. Mr Wheeler was confirmed as the EPA’s No 2 official in April. Unlike his predecessor, he has a low-key approach, cultivated during years working in Washington – including a previous turn at the EPA and time on Capitol Hill serving under Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican.

Mr Pruitt’s departure is a victory for environmentalists and good government advocates who have campaigned against the EPA administrator’s conduct since his confirmation in February 2017. They cast him as an unabashed ally of corporate polluters and assailed what they called his ethical abuses.

At least 170 Democrats and four Republicans in the House and Senate had sought Mr Pruitt's removal amid allegations of ethical missteps and abuses of power, including his decision to rent a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium from a lobbyist for $50 a night under unusually generous terms.

Mr Pruitt, 50, also drew fire – and at least a dozen formal investigations – for frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma, questionable spending decisions at the EPA, raises for two top aides and accusations some employees were sidelined after challenging the administrator’s decisions.

Recent disclosures also revealed the extent to which Mr Pruitt enlisted aides to conduct an array of personal errands, including helping him find housing in Washington, buying a second-hand mattress from the Trump International Hotel and pursuing a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife. At least some of the work was conducted with EPA email and during working hours, potentially violating federal ethics rules that bar federal employees from using their public office for private gain and soliciting gifts from employees.

At least five political appointees, including three longtime Pruitt allies, left the agency as allegations mounted.

But the animosity he generated among liberal activists is matched by the fondness he inspired on the political right. For more than a year, that helped insulate him and gave him leverage within the White House – power he successfully used to help persuade Mr Trump to pull the US from the Paris climate agreement.

The president stood by him for months. He defended his EPA chief in an April 7 tweet proclaiming that “Pruitt is doing a great job. The president reiterated his confidence in the administrator on May 11 and again on June 6, saying the “EPA is doing really, really well” under Pruitt’s leadership. But by June 15, the president’s support had softened, with Trump saying he was “not happy” about some of Pruitt’s actions.