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Pruitt Supporter Says Despite 'Missteps,' EPA Head 'Has Done An Outstanding Job'


We're now going to turn to Myron Ebell. He led Donald Trump's EPA transition team, and he's on the line with us now. Thank you for joining us.

MYRON EBELL: Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: So you gave recommendations to the Trump transition personnel team for who should lead the EPA, and Scott Pruitt was on that list. Do you still stand by that recommendation?

EBELL: I think he was a good choice. To just be frank, he wasn't my very top choice, but he was certainly in my short list. I think he's done a good job. And I think he's gotten caught up in a really orchestrated campaign which took a very few careless missteps and then added on a whole lot of very trivial accusations to try to make it look like he is somehow personally corrupt. And I just - I don't buy any of that.

CHANG: I want to read to you from Pruitt's resignation letter. He said, quote, "the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us," end quote. He doesn't really apologize for the long list of controversies during his tenure - the accusations about the secret phone booth, the first-class flights, the sirens to his restaurant reservations. What do you make of that choice to not apologize for any of those scandals, those controversies?

EBELL: Oh, it just seems to me that that's what's usually done. And I think he has some good reasons to feel somewhat bitter about this campaign that's been waged against him. You know, similar charges have been brought against previous officials in previous administrations, and they've just died after one or two days.

CHANG: With Scott Pruitt, there was sort of a drip-drip-drip of scandal after scandal for months and months. It wasn't just one or two discrete things that happened.

EBELL: Yes, but I think many of the accusations and charges were really trivial. So, you know, this is all water under the bridge now. I think - you know, I think he's done an outstanding job. I think he made some careless missteps which I think - you know, he should have been better prepared to handle some of the aspects of the job. I don't think it was appropriate to fly first class. That's - you know, business executives do it all the time, but government officials are expected to fly economy. So, you know, I think he made some mistakes, but I think he's done an outstanding job. And now the question is what happens to the - you know, President Trump's agenda. And I think it will - it's in good hands with Andrew Wheeler. And we'll move on.

CHANG: Well, do you worry, though, that all this controversy, Pruitt's departure will in some way hurt the president's agenda when it comes to environmental regulations? I mean, Pruitt's replacement will surely face a very, very tough fight in the Senate because Democrats have been pretty fed up with Pruitt for quite some time now.

EBELL: Yes, I think it does endanger the president's agenda. But I think the good news is President Trump is very determined to achieve his agenda. He's very clear for EPA what it is. And the person he's named as acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who's currently the No. 2 person at EPA, is someone who is fully on board and engaged with his agenda and supports it I believe right down the line.

CHANG: Well, what legacy do you think Pruitt leaves behind at the EPA? I mean, he basically did what he came to do, right?

EBELL: Yes. His job was to implement President Trump's agenda, and I think he's done an outstanding job of doing that. I think his legacy is unfortunately the same as the last person and the only other EPA administrator who ever tried to reform the EPA. And that was Anne Gorsuch, President Reagan's choice way back in 1981 when the EPA was only 11 years old. She was run out of town by the Democrats in Congress. And now Scott Pruitt has been run out of town under somewhat different circumstances.

CHANG: That's Myron Ebell. He's the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Thank you.

EBELL: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.