NOEL KING, HOST:
Ever since he was nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt has been followed by controversy.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: With questions over his use of multiple email accounts, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt is...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Another investigation into agency head Scott Pruitt.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Pruitt is fending off repeated questions over his housing arrangements, staffing decisions and...
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: U.S. taxpayers are out about $3.5 million to protect Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during his first year in office.
KING: Over the course of his 16-month tenure as head of the EPA, the scandals piled up. There was a discounted apartment rental from a D.C. lobbyist, a $43,000 phone booth installed in his office, lavish spending on travel. Pruitt ultimately became the center of over a dozen different ethics investigations. And then yesterday, he resigned. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware is with me now. He's the senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator, good morning.
TOM CARPER: Good morning. Good morning, Noel.
KING: I was reading your Twitter feed this morning, and I think it's fair to say that you are rejoicing over the resignation of Scott Pruitt. You called the resignation well-deserved. What did you mean?
CARPER: I think - in baseball, there's a term that's called a pitch well-telegraphed, and it means the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand, the batter knows what kind of pitch it's going to be. Scott Pruitt was a pitch well-telegraphed. We knew from the time he spent six years as AG, attorney general, out in Oklahoma, basically attacking the Environmental Protection Agency and leading Republican AGs across the country and attacking clean air, clean water, all kinds of things. And so we knew what to expect. We never expected him to be as morally bankrupt as he's turned out to be. I was trained as a leader from the age of 11, Boy Scout, 15, Civil Air Patrol cadet, 17, Navy ROTC midshipman, Ohio State, 21, Naval Flight Officer, three tours Vietnam. Twenty-three years in all in the Navy, retired Navy captain. I know little about leadership, and this guy was just not a leader. And we're better off without him. Our country's better off without him. And, I hate to be unkind about it but, frankly, good riddance.
KING: His leadership skills aside, Mr. Pruitt was at the center of a number of investigations over his behavior, his ethical behavior. What do you think ultimately prompted this resignation? This has been going on for months.
CARPER: Well, this is death by a thousand cuts. This is death by a thousand cuts. And it's one, after the other, after the other. Even folks on the Republican side, my colleagues who approve of his position on a number of environmental issues, a lot of us don't. But, just one, after the other, after the other. And there's an old saying, sometimes the bed that you make, you get to sleep in it. And here's a guy that, I think, when the word got out, Noel, that he was sending the staff out to see if they could find a used mattress at one of the Trump Hotels, I think for a number of people, that was just the last straw, the last straw.
KING: One of the allegations against Mr. Pruitt. Will investigations into his ethics violations continue now that he's resigned or is this over?
CARPER: Yeah. That's a good question. I think some of the investigations will continue. They should continue. Some may not. The idea that he sent folks out on the security detail to get him moisturizing lotion, that'll probably slip away. But the idea that he sent out people to buy personal items for him, they put it on their credit cards and never got reimbursed - stuff like that, I think that's just awful. That's just atrocious.
KING: A long list, again, of allegations. Pruitt is being replaced in the interim by his deputy Andrew Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler has worked for the coal industry. He denies that climate change is caused by humans. Does this actually change anything?
CARPER: Well, actually, I think it does. He's - Andrew comes out of the EPA. Used to work in the EPA, sort of rank and file person there, and ended up working for George Voinovich, who was highly regarded senator and governor from Ohio, a member of our committee. And then later for Jim Inhofe. He is not Bill Ruckelshaus, he's not Bill Reilly - some of our earliest EPA administrators. But he sure as heck ain't Scott Pruitt. He'll have a chance to show what he can do. What we really need, we need an EPA administrator who not just talks about finding ways to clean the air, clean the water, protect public health and grow the economy, but will actually do it. We need somebody who will help us find a common-sense approach for it and continue to increase fuel efficiency standards but do it in a way that doesn't put the auto industry in extreme conditions.
KING: Well, to that point, is there anything that Democrats can do to influence the president's choice of a replacement here?
CARPER: Well, actually, we have something called advice and consent. And if you look, there's a couple of people that the administration tried to put in the EPA, a guy named Michael Dourson, to run some of their chemical safety piece. And we were able to feed that nomination. Got a woman named Kathleen Hartnett White to run the - an operation for the Council on Environmental Quality in the White House. So we defeated both of those. So I think we're a force to be reckoned with. We don't want to, you know, defeat a nominee just for the sake of defeating somebody. We want somebody to come in and work with us. And there's all kinds of areas where we need to find, how do we clean the water? How do we clean the air? How do we improve public health? How do we do that and at the same time find economic gain and economic opportunity in doing that? We can do that, and not just talk about it, but actually do it. If we can find an administrator, a nominee, who believes in that, will work hard for that in, good for him or her. Good for our country.
KING: Senator, will the Democrats stall a confirmation process until after the midterm elections this fall?
CARPER: I think that it's too soon to say. Right now Andrew Wheeler's going to be the acting administrator. I know he's had - in his past he's worked for the coal operation as a lobbyist. But I don't think that's his entire resume. And we'll have a chance to see what else he can do and whether he's willing to just turn the page and maybe really surprise people like Bill Ruckelshaus surprised people when he came back to lead the EPA for President Ronald Reagan.
KING: All right.
CARPER: People didn't trust him. They didn't want him to come back. He came back, and he did a great job. So who knows?
KING: So prepared for the moment to give Mr. Wheeler a chance. Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. Thank you, sir.
CARPER: Yeah. Thanks, Noel. Have a great day. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.