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Scientists applaud resignation of embattled US environment chief

Scott Pruitt provoked controversy over his policies at the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Scott Pruitt, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, provoked controversy throughout his 16 months at the agency.Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), resigned on 5 July amid a series of ethical and spending scandals.

Pruitt — a former attorney-general for Oklahoma who had repeatedly challenged EPA regulations in court — was confirmed as the EPA administrator by the US Senate in February 2017. Since then, he has implemented an aggressive agenda to roll back health and environmental regulations.

In particular, he sought to reverse a series of rules aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, oil and gas operations and other industries. Pruitt also triggered complaints from scientists and environmental groups when he changed how the agency approached scientific research. In some of his more controversial decisions, Pruitt banned scientists with EPA funding from serving on agency advisory boards, and he proposed limits on the kinds of scientific research used to justify environmental regulations.

Scientists and environmentalists applauded Pruitt’s resignation, but warned that efforts to dismantle health and environmental regulations are sure to continue under Andrew Wheeler, the EPA’s deputy administrator. The former coal lobbyist will be the agency’s acting administrator until the US Senate confirms a new appointee.

“This is a big victory for public health and for the employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, but the fight isn’t done,” says Jeremy Symons, vice-president for political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, an activist group in New York City.

US President Donald Trump confirmed that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation in a tweet on 5 July. Trump made no mention of the controversies surrounding Pruitt.

The EPA declined to comment on Pruitt’s resignation.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05661-5
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Updates & Corrections

  • Update 05 July 2018: This story has been updated with the EPA's response for a request for comment.