AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The embattled administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is out. President Trump says he's accepted Scott Pruitt's resignation. This comes after months of ethical scandals. Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, will take over the agency in an acting capacity on Monday. And now to talk about these latest developments, we are joined by NPR's Scott Horsley, who's at the White House. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ailsa.
CHANG: So the president broke this news on Twitter this afternoon. How exactly did he word this announcement?
HORSLEY: He put out a pair of tweets saying he has accepted Pruitt's resignation and that he will always be thankful for Pruitt's service at the EPA. As you mentioned, he has tapped Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, who is a former coal lobbyist, to take over the agency in an acting capacity next week. And Trump added, we have made tremendous progress, and the future of the EPA is bright.
Now, under this administration, the EPA has been steadily rolling back environmental regulations, weakening efforts to address climate change. Pruitt, like the president, was skeptical about the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that human activity, namely greenhouse gases, is a major contributor.
CHANG: Right. Pruitt was also - has been under investigation for months for various ethical lapses, the sort of thing that took down other Cabinet secretaries much more quickly. Pruitt denied and denied these allegations. Here's what he told Congress back in April.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SCOTT PRUITT: Facts are facts, and fiction is fiction. And a lie doesn't become truth just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper. Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team has been half-truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted they do not resemble reality.
CHANG: So how did Pruitt survive as long as he did?
HORSLEY: Well, because he was aggressively carrying out the president's deregulatory agenda. Scott Pruitt was tailor-made to carry out that agenda of unwinding Obama-era policies. He had fought aggressively against those policies in his old job as attorney general in the fossil-fuel-rich state of Oklahoma. When Trump announced he was pulling out of the Paris climate accord last year, it was Scott Pruitt who was at his side in the Rose Garden. And then Pruitt later dined out at a swanky French restaurant here in Washington.
So, you know, for a long time, Trump was willing to overlook the mounting ethical scandals, whether his sweetheart housing deal and a condo owned by the wife of a lobbyist or Pruitt's lavish spending on air travel, his 24-hour security detail that accompanied him to the Rose Bowl and other events. You know, for months now, the White House had said those things were troubling, but they liked what Pruitt was doing at the EPA. And as late as this afternoon, the Trump - the president was tweeting that within the agency, Pruitt had done an outstanding job.
CHANG: So after all that support from the White House, what finally forced Pruitt to step aside today?
HORSLEY: You know, I'm not sure what was the last straw. But in recent weeks, we have been seeing testimony coming out from EPA officials about how Pruitt used agency staffers to carry out personal favors, including trying to land a lucrative job for his wife. And these accounts weren't coming from career EPA officials, the sort of deep-state critics who were horrified at his deregulatory agenda. These were coming from political appointees who shared that agenda.
CHANG: What does Pruitt's departure mean for the overall direction of the EPA going forward now?
HORSLEY: It probably doesn't mean much change. In his tweet this afternoon, the president said, I have no doubt that Andy Wheeler will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. Now, Wheeler is more of a Washington insider than Pruitt was. He is probably savvy enough to sort of fly a little more below the radar. He won't be quite so in your face, and he probably won't try to use agency resources to carry (laughter) - you know, line his own pockets. But he has been a coal lobbyist, so when it comes to the climate agenda, he will be very much on the same page as Scott Pruitt and the same page as President Trump.
CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House. Thank you very much, Scott.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.