The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency has always been to protect human health and the environment. But since taking the helm just over a year ago, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has made no secret that his personal mission is to do the opposite.
Time after time, Pruitt has ignored his agency's own data, analysis and recommendations in order to protect corporate polluters. He has given new meaning to the lobbyist revolving door, hiring people who have close connections to the industries that the EPA is supposed to regulate. And he wasted taxpayer money for his own personal comfort.
By now, it is clear that Pruitt is unfit for public office and needs to go.
Take, first, the "brief" meeting between Pruitt and a top Dow Chemical executive last March. Less than a month later, Pruitt announced he would refuse to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, produced by Dow, from being sprayed on food, despite a review from EPA scientists that found even trace amounts of chlorpyrifos can interfere with children's brain development. In refusing to go along with EPA experts' advice to ban chlorpyrifos, Pruitt rejected science, endangered children's health and benefited his industry friends all at once.
But that's not all. In January 2016, two employees of the agribusiness Syngenta assigned about 20 workers to work in a field recently treated with chlorpyrifos in Hawaii, exposing them to dangerous levels of the pesticide. Later that year, the EPA under the leadership of Gina McCarthy announced it would fine Syngenta about $4.9 million for its improper use of the chemical during the January incident.
But help for Syngenta was on the way when Pruitt became administrator. In October 2017, Pruitt hired Jeff Sands, a former Syngenta lobbyist, as his senior adviser for agriculture issues. In December, the White House counsel granted Sands an ethics waiver to ensure that he could continue to work on issues related to his former employer - including the issues that he had lobbied previously, such as the EPA's regulation of pesticides.
Then in February, the EPA reduced Syngenta's fine for violating pesticide regulations to $150,000 without explanation, requiring the company to spend an additional $400,000 on worker training. In all, the company saved about $4.4 million.
And then in March, Sands - perhaps feeling his mission accomplished - left the EPA.
No one knows why Pruitt decided to reduce Syngenta's fine. No one knows whether Sands' advice influenced that decision. But the timing raises serious questions, and Pruitt should immediately and proactively release all of the documents detailing his decision-making process.
In addition to throwing the EPA's doors wide open for corporate polluters, Pruitt has wasted taxpayer dollars. The extent of Pruitt's excess is still coming to light, but we do know that Pruitt spent $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth, which the Government Accountability Office is investigating, and almost $9,000 to install biometric locks in his office and to have it swept for listening devices. He also tried to spend $120,000 to hire a Republican political consulting firm to track press coverage of the EPA, but that deal failed after it was revealed that one of the firm's lawyers worked to monitor EPA employees critical of Pruitt or President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Pruitt has made a habit of using taxpayer money to avoid ordinary citizens who want to criticize him. In response to questions from Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Pruitt was forced to release documents indicating that he spent more than $105,000 on first-class flights in his first year at the EPA alone. The Washington Post recently reported that one week's worth of travel in June 2017 by Pruitt and his staff cost about $120,000, which the EPA inspector general is investigating.
Remarkably, even the White House is fed up with this behavior. Pruitt was recently scolded by the White House for the embarrassing stories around his preference for first-class travel.
Enough is enough. Pruitt has failed to demonstrate that he can lead the EPA without putting American lives at risk or wantonly wasting taxpayer money. It's time to give him the boot.
Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, served as counselor to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.