Overnight Energy: Pruitt out as EPA chief | Former aides describe culture of fear | GOP lawmakers relieved by Pruitt's exit

Overnight Energy: Pruitt out as EPA chief | Former aides describe culture of fear | GOP lawmakers relieved by Pruitt's exit

PRUITT LEAVING EPA AMID SCANDALS: Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump official violated ethics rules in seeking EPA job for relative, watchdog finds Pelosi hammers Pompeo, Trump: 'Scandalous' to dismiss IGs EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement MORE will resign from his position leading the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday, following months of high-profile controversies regarding his spending, ethics and management at the agency.

In a tweet Thursday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report GOP Rep calls on primary opponent to condemn campaign surrogate's racist video Tennessee court rules all registered voters can obtain mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 MORE confirmed Pruitt's departure, saying he's accepted the administrator's resignation.

"I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this," Trump tweeted.

Trump said Pruitt will be replaced on Monday by EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist who was confirmed in April for the post.

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Pruitt this week faced intensified criticism from reports that the administrator maintained a secret, internal calendar that he directed aides to change from the public version they released.

Pruitt's former political aide, Madeline Morris, confirmed to The New York Times Thursday that she believes she was fired from the agency after pushing back on directions to retroactively change meetings on Pruitt's calendar -- actions she learned were potentially illegal.

Morris was hired in June 2017 as Pruitt scheduler. She raised red flags after seeing changes related to Pruitt's trip to Italy on the calendar. She told the Times she was fired two days later in August 2017.

Former EPA political staffer turned whistleblower Kevin Chmielewski confirmed to The Hill that he and Pruitt's Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson were responsible for firing Morris for the changes.

Chmielewski said it was typical of staffers to be "retaliated against and assigned."

He said he was fired from the agency earlier this year after he pushed back on a number of Pruitt's travel plans including use of first class travel.

Chmielewski additionally confirmed the use of an internal calendar he said staffers kept out of the public eye. CNN first reported on the secret calendar Tuesday.

Pruitt has been engulfed in high-profile scandals and under fire by both parties in recent months regarding spending taxpayer money for travel and security, his close relationships with lobbyists and industry, and allegations he used government resources and staff for personal gain, among other controversies.

He was facing more than 13 federal investigations over the controversies, including from the EPA's Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Government Accountability Office in April found him guilty of overspending congressionally allocated money on a $43,000 soundproof booth built in his office to provide privacy on personal calls.

Pruitt cites 'unrelenting attacks': Pruitt was unapologetic in his resignation letter to Trump Thursday, saying that he's leaving because of "unrelenting attacks" on himself, his family and others.

"It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us," he wrote.

"I believe you are serving as President today because of God's providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service," he continued. Read Pruitt's full resignation letter here.

Wheeler up to the plate: Wheeler, who was confirmed in April to be deputy chief, takes helm of the EPA Monday as acting administrator.

Wheeler is a former energy lobbyist with clients in the coal and uranium industries, among others. He worked in the EPA as a career employee in the early 1990s, followed by 14 years of Senate work and nine years in the private sector.

He told The Hill last week that he wasn't gunning for Pruitt's job and would not want to be administrator.

"I'm the deputy administrator, that's the position I signed up for, that's the position I wanted. I didn't want to be the administrator, still don't want to be the administrator," he said. (Keep reading for more on Wheeler below.)

Click here for more on Pruitt's resignation.

 

Happy Thursday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com, and Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama, @mirandacgreen, @thehill.

It's that moment his critics have been waiting for and thought would never come -- the day EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned. And we have a few stories for you...

 

FORMER AIDES DESCRIBE CULTURE OF FEAR UNDER PRUITT: Succeeding at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) meant keeping your head down, your opinions to yourself and never saying no to the boss, according to three former staffers who worked under Administrator Scott Pruitt.

They described working conditions under Pruitt, who announced his resignation Thursday, as equally tense and thankless and blamed the EPA chief for creating a culture of fear that often pitted employees against one another and left some workers --many under the age of 30 -- feeling as if they couldn't say no the administrator.

"You get the sense that anyone who would push back on him, he didn't want around. So the message has been sent loud and clear that the only way you can succeed in that office is if you do exactly what he wants," one former aide, speaking before Pruitt's resignation, told The Hill.

The descriptions provided by former staffers paint a picture of an agency where political staffers were driven foremost by their desire to please Pruitt and help him appear competent -- a task made increasingly difficult as a towering number of controversies surrounding him.

The controversies ultimately led to his resignation. President Trump, commenting to reporters on Air Force One, said Pruitt did not want to be a distraction.

Pruitt was facing 13 federal investigations into his various expenses and management practices at the EPA, including his rental of a $50-per-night Capitol Hill condo from the wife of an energy lobbyist and his use of first-class travel during his first year on the job.

Read more about the troubling work-life for many aides at Pruitt's EPA here.

 

GOP LAWMAKERS RELIEVED BY PRUITT'S DEPARTURE: Republican lawmakers on Thursday expressed relief that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt is resigning, removing a significant headache for them.

While nearly all Republicans in Congress cheered Pruitt's policy actions and deregulation, few lawmakers stood up for him following President Trump's tweet that he was leaving. Pruitt's resignation came after months of scandals over adherence to ethics and spending rules and allegations that he used his office for personal gain.

"I believe the President was right to accept @EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's resignation," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits Graham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over Graham pushes back on Mattis criticism of Trump: 'You're missing something here, my friend' MORE (R-S.C.) tweeted, going on to say that "it has become increasingly clear it was time for a change at EPA."

More here on the reaction.

 

And in case you want to know a bit about the new guy taking over EPA on Monday...

 

WHO IS ANDREW WHEELER?: Andrew Wheeler, the deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a former energy lobbyist, will become the agency's acting head on Monday after Thursday's resignation of EPA head Scott Pruitt.

After a series of mounting ethics scandals, President Trump tweeted Thursday that he had accepted Pruitt's resignation and that Wheeler will serve as acting head of the EPA.

The news follows Wheeler telling The Hill last week that he wasn't interested in becoming EPA administrator.

"I'm the deputy administrator, that's the position I signed up for, that's the position I wanted. I didn't want to be the administrator, still don't want to be the administrator," Wheeler told The Hill.

"I'm here to help Administrator Pruitt with his agenda and President Trump's agenda for the agency. That's what my job is," he said at the time.

But Wheeler, who was confirmed in April, is widely seen as a replacement for Pruitt with similar deregulatory goals and facing fewer controversies.

Trump said he expects Wheeler to "continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda."

"I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!" Trump tweeted.

We have more on Wheeler here.

 

Democrats though are already taking shots at the incoming chief.

 

PELOSI DELIVERS WARNING ON NEW EPA CHIEF:

While many Democrats are cheering the imminent departure of embattled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'Scary' to see uniformed troops on steps of Lincoln Memorial Pelosi: Democrats to unveil sweeping criminal justice proposal Monday Pelosi demands Trump clarify deployment of unidentified law enforcement in DC MORE (D-Calif.) is warning that his successor, in her view, will be worse.

Pelosi, a staunch environmentalist, suggested Adnrew Wheeler will prove more effective than Pruitt when it comes to deregulating environmental safeguards -- a dynamic she says will only heighten the threat to clean air, clean water and other public safety concerns governed by the EPA.

Key quote: "It is deeply concerning that the President has chosen to elevate a coal lobby kingpin even more focused than his predecessor on advancing the toxic Trump agenda and destroying critical protections for the health and safety of families," she said Thursday in a statement.

"Even with the departure of Pruitt, the Trump Cabinet will remain the most corrupt Administration in history."

More on Pelosi's comments here.

 

For some not Pruitt related news….

 

TRUMP COAL PLAN WOULD INCREASE POLLUTION-RELATED DEATHS: STUDY: A new study released Thursday projects that a Trump administration proposal for propping up struggling coal and nuclear plants could lead to premature deaths from pollution.

Resources for the Future found that for every 2 to 4.5 coal mining jobs the plan protects, there would be 1 human death due to emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides over the next two years.

The group behind the study describes itself as an "independent, nonprofit research institution."

The research is in response to the Trump administration discussing a plan for the Department of Energy (DOE) to take steps to prevent the closure of aging coal and nuclear plants in the U.S. in the next two years.

The plan, outlined in a memo first obtained by Bloomberg News in June, would see the administration use a Cold War era law to prop up the aging industries.

Read more.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

South Carolina environmental regulators are accusing utility SCE&G of misleading officials on a coal tar cleanup process, The State reports.

Dozens of gasoline stations in Texas have settled claims that they price-gouged customers around Hurricane Harvey last year, the Houston Chronicle reports.

 

FROM THE HILL'S OPINION SECTION:

Thomas Hicks, Jr., chairman of the board of America First Policies, says Trump is bringing the country closer than ever before to energy independence.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Thursday's stories ...

-Former aides describe culture of fear under Pruitt

-Trump: 'No final straw' on Pruitt

-GOP lawmakers relieved with Pruitt's departure

-Grassley: Pruitt resigning the 'right decision'

-Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief?

-Bernie SandersBernie SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs order removing environmental reviews for major projects | New Trump air rule will limit future pollution regulations, critics say | DNC climate group calls for larger federal investment on climate than Biden plan Google: Chinese and Iranian hackers targeting Biden, Trump campaigns Sanders: Police departments that violate civil rights should lose federal funding MORE: Pruitt was 'the worst EPA administrator in the history of the agency'

-Top liberal group: Pruitt's resignation a win for anyone who cares about the environment

-Dem lawmaker: Pruitt's scandals 'made swamp creatures blush'

-CNN airs scrolling list of Pruitt's scandals after he announces resignation

-GOP lawmaker: Pruitt was 'an embarrassment from day one'

-Pruitt in resignation letter to Trump: You are president because of God's providence

-Ethics watchdog releases one-word statement on Pruitt resignation: 'Good'

-Embattled EPA head Pruitt resigns

-Trump coal plan could lead to 1 pollution-related death for every 2 jobs: study

-Dems seek probe into allegations Pruitt altered calendars