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Friday, September 21 Local

Connecticut environmentalists hail Pruitt’s fall

HARTFORD — Connecticut environmentalists and others on Thursday cheered Scott Pruitt’s sudden resignation as head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

And they demanded the agency drop its open hostility to climate change and other pressing concerns.

"Scott Pruitt is leaving a legacy of lasting damage to environmental protections and respect for public office," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

"[President Donald Trump] must choose an EPA chief who actually believes in the mission of the agency and will prioritize the environment, health and safety of the American people over big polluters’ profits," Blumenthal said.

Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general with a long-held disdain for the EPA, resigned over mounting ethics and personal scandals, including accepting reduced rents on a Washington, D.C., condo and costly travel to hobnob with GOP donors and special interest groups.

Much like Trump, Pruitt voiced skepticism about mainstream climate science and was a fierce critic of the Paris climate agreement. The president cheered his EPA chief's moves to boost fossil fuel production, roll back regulations opposed by corporate interests and cut emission standards for cars and power plants.

Louis Burch, program director the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, said the loss of Pruitt is good news.

"He will undoubtedly go down as the worst EPA administrator in American history, and his resignation could not have come soon enough," Burch said.

But Burch said work to reverse the damage Pruitt has already caused will go on for years.

Anti-science

Despite mounting personal scandals and a dozen investigations surrounding him, Trump stood by Pruitt, never publicly demanding his resignation. Instead, Pruitt on Thursday resigned on his own, and Trump announced it on Twitter.

In a letter to Trump, Pruitt cited the criticism and controversies he and his family have endured as reasons for resigning.

Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler will assume the acting administrator position on Monday. Wheeler is a former lobbyist whose client list included coal companies — a dirty power source Trump is trying to revive.

After taking office as administrator, Pruitt began systematically dismantling environmental laws and regulations enacted under former President Barrack Obama, including clean power and water initiatives.

Pruitt followed Trump’s lead and disavowed climate change science, stripping the subject from the agency’s web site. Pruitt slashed building standards designed to protect homes from storms and "streamlined" environmental review processes, leaving less time for exhaustive scientific review.

Obama-era prohibitions on off shore oil drilling in federal ocean waters were lifted, opening the possibility of dangerous oil rigs off the New York or Massachusetts coast.

Clean air rules for coal-fired power plants, and water regulations protecting small streams, were scrapped. Superfund sites were closed — deleted as the EPA under Pruitt put it — and their special designation and funding terminated.

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Pruitt also cut EPA’s funding by 40 percent, resulting in a 50 percent reduction in its workforce.

’Long overdue’

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Pruitt’s resignation was welcome news.

"This is long overdue," Malloy said "Scott Pruitt’s consistent, breathtaking pattern of corruption is trumped only by his utter disregard for environmental protection."

But Malloy expressed concern that Wheeler may not be any friendlier to the environment.

"While his resignation is certainly welcome news, his replacement — at least for the time being — is a former lobbyist for the coal industry," Malloy said.

"In short, states like Connecticut must continue to step up to fight against the effects of climate change and protect our communities," the governor added.

Connecticut has sued the EPA over smog from Midwestern states that wafts into New England and causes "bad air" days that harm residents.

Malloy and state lawmakers recently increased Greenhouse gas emission reduction goals while Pruitt and Trump worked to increase the amount of pollution that can be emitted by cars.

The General Assembly this year mandated that rising sea levels due to climate change must be considered when building future shoreline projects.

New Direction

Robert Klee, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Trump must reset EPA’s policies and direction.

"The role of the EPA administrator is to protect the health and safety of all United States residents and Administrator Pruitt continuously failed to perform this most important part of the job," Klee said.

"The Trump administration has a chance now to reset its environmental policies, and address critical issues such as climate change, air pollution, emerging contaminants and clean drinking water in a bipartisan manner...," Klee said.

Curt Johnson, president of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Save the Sound, said Pruitt was right to resign.

"He has questioned the existence of climate change and moved to revoke virtually every hard-fought climate protection regulation, from cleaning up power plant pollution that creates stifling smog in Connecticut on hot summer days like this one, to standards that slash carbon emissions from cars," Johnson said.

bcummings@ctpost.com

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