09 Jul 2018

Woulda, coulda, shoulda — Scott Pruitt exits the EPA

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The allure of a position in a new administration is overwhelming – the prestige, the opportunity to advance a closely held belief, new stationery, and perhaps the strongest draw is to right wrongs visited upon your interests by a previous administration.

Perhaps no single cabinet officer embraced his mandate with more vigor than former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.  His state had experienced a resurgence of oil and natural gas activity, tax revenues rose, unemployment was almost non-existent and the benefits to balance of trade, national security and economic health were self-evident.

Lying in wait were the powers that be, there was no mystery here. Mr. Pruitt knew an entrenched bureaucracy was locked and loaded.  The long knives were out, prepared to decapitate him if possible, and if not, to inflict a thousand cuts.  The landscape clearly dictated playing it close to the vest.  No excessive expenditures, open meetings, full disclosure, zero opportunities for even a whiff of impropriety.

Decorous behavior and cautious use of public funds would validate his dismantling of the obstructionist bureaucracy created by past administrators who had less than strict oversight and accountability for decades.  Agency overreach was backed by legions of enviro NGOs who feed at the sue-and-settle trough and their liberal funders on both coasts.

Congressional lethargy allowed similar miscreants to advance gross mismanagement and fraud at the VA and vindictive, politically-motivated misbehavior at the IRS.  If it had only been penny-ante stuff at EPA, Pruitt would have survived and thrived.  First class travel for cabinet officers is not unusual.  The PolicySmith sat in first class one row behind then-Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz on a flight from Washington, DC to Denver.  Not a mention was made of any such travel during the previous administration.

Even the security detail could be explained in view of threats by the extreme left in the climate debate.  But job seeking for relatives, secure private telephones, altered meeting calendars and the laundry list of additional missteps were too much.  As an attorney, and past Attorney General of Oklahoma, such poor decision-making is difficult to comprehend.

Streamlining the EPA would be a pitched battle under the best of circumstances.  Wanton disregard for appearances, while pursuing a task vital to virtually every business and state and local government is impossible to comprehend. His misadventures make it doubly problematic for his successor to continue dismantling the leviathan.

Opportunities missed or bungled characterize many Republican administrations.  George W. Bush gave the country the heresy of “We are addicted to foreign oil.”  As a former producer he could easily have unleashed the industry and have possibly avoided the economic meltdown of 2008.  His father will forever be remembered for “No new taxes.”

Providence offers opportunities, even to conservatives…and to oil producers.  The iconic bumper sticker in the oil industry is “Lord, give me one more boom, I promise not to blow it.”  That plea has been answered.  It remains to be seen if what former Administrator Pruitt coulda done, and woulda done if he’d done what he shoulda, will be successfully prosecuted.  It’s vital and doable.

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