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Analysis Politics

Internet lights up as Pruitt quits, but expect business as usual at EPA

Meet the new EPA boss, same as the old boss (more or less).

EPA building, Environmental Protection Agency

Scott Pruitt resigned Thursday from his post as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Getty Images

President Donald Trump's tweet on Thursday that EPA chief Scott Pruitt resigned may have prompted some to celebrate. Pruitt was previously attorney general of Oklahoma, where he was close to the state's oil industry and waged a campaign against the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to slow climate change.

Pruitt quit the EPA after months of ethics-related scandals related to his behavior and spending practices, CBS News reports. That includes a decision to install a $43,000 private phone booth in his office as well as revelations that he asked aides to help his wife find a job with a six-figure salary.

The news drew out Twitter users, who used the resignation as an opportunity to skewer him one last time.

Twitter meme creator Darth tweeted with a picture of other Trump administration officials who have also resigned, including former Press Secretary Sean Spicer and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

"So u guys wanna share an uber lol," Darth tweeted.

Even conservative commentators, like radio and TV host Laura Ingraham, have taken a swipe at Pruitt.

"Pruitt is the swamp. Drain it," she tweeted Tuesday.

Pruitt Hearing

Pruitt, during testimony to the Senate in May.

Tom Williams

Pruitt's replacement, deputy administrator Andrew K. Wheeler, is cut out of the same cloth, according to multiple news reports. The main difference between the two, say conservation groups, is Wheeler will likely be more effective than Pruitt in dismantling EPA safeguards.

The EPA was established in 1970 to protect human health and the environment. That includes making sure the air is safe to breathe, our water is safe to drink and that pollutants, such as pesticides and toxic waste, aren't allowed to seep into the environment and impact our health. Conservationists complain the EPA's mandate is being weakened dramatically under Trump, who's come out in favor of coal and against clean energy.

"Scott Pruitt did an outstanding job inside of the EPA," the president said Thursday. "We've gotten rid of record breaking regulations and it's been really -- you know, obviously, the controversies with Scott, but within the agency we were extremely happy. His deputy has been with me actually a long time. He was very much an early Trump supporter. He was with us on the campaign. He is a very environmental person. He's a big believer, and he's going to do a fantastic job."

But where Pruitt came to Washington as an outsider, Wheeler has spent two decades in the nation's capital -- making him an experienced insider who knows how to work the system.

"The line on Wheeler from people in the know is that he's essentially Scott Pruitt's ideological twin -- but that his many years as a Washington insider have endowed him with a political savvy that Pruitt sorely lacks," Jeff Turrentine, columnist for the Natural Resources Defense Council,  wrote in April.

Wheeler was  a lobbyist for Murray Energy, among the largest coal companies in the country. He's also vice president of the Washington Coal Club, representing about 300 coal producers, lawmakers, business leaders and policy experts, according to the NRDC.  In addition, he was formerly chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and a prominent climate change denier.

The senator praised Wheeler last year when he was nominated to the EPA deputy administrator post, saying, "there is no one more qualified than Andrew to help Scott Pruitt restore EPA to its proper size and scope." 

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