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Robert Redford: The biggest Scott Pruitt scandal is the one right in front of us

By Robert Redford Special To The Washington Post

President Donald Trump should follow the suggestion of many – including some within his own party, and reportedly even his chief of staff – and replace Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt’s conduct as head of the EPA is beyond disappointing; it’s disgraceful. The list of indefensible actions grows each week: from sweetheart condo deals with the wife of an energy lobbyist, to unfair raises for favored appointees and apparent punishments for those who defy him, to a $43,000 soundproof phone booth.

These seemingly daily revelations dominate the headlines. But Pruitt’s failings in ethics and judgment are only part of a much larger problem: Pruitt has failed at the core responsibility of his job.

He’s not protecting the environment. Pruitt has become a one-man public-health risk to the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. From day one, he has worked to gut the EPA and hamstring its ability to protect the environment and public health. He works on behalf of the fossil-fuel industry and other industrial polluters, not the American people. That’s the greatest scandal – and the reason, first and foremost, he’s got to go.

And he actively promotes one of the gravest threats to our future: misinformation. To hear Pruitt tell it, the rising seas, widening deserts and raging wildfires Americans are experiencing are reasons to debate the science on climate change, not take action against it.

Pruitt led Trump’s charge to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord. I was in Paris when that agreement was reached. It was a triumph of American leadership. We were doing what was best for our country: cutting carbon pollution today so our kids would have a more predictable climate and a better future. The Trump administration has broken our promise to the world by announcing that we will back out of the Paris accords.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. Pruitt has been working to weaken standards designed to clean up dirty power plants and to walk back fuel standards for cars. He has put a hold on vital safeguards that would limit the amount of mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxic chemicals that industry can spew into the air or dump into our rivers. Speaking of water, he’s working to repeal the clean water rule that ensures protection for wetlands, rivers and streams that provide drinking water to a third of all Americans.

Meanwhile, he has ignored research from scientists at the agency and refused to ban dangerous chemicals, such as the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Instead, he hired a lobbyist connected with one of the manufacturers of the chemical and then reduced fines levied against the company for violating regulations.

He also attacked science itself, proposing policies in the guise of transparency that would limit the research that the agency could use to make decisions.

Americans deserve better. The EPA was established to protect the environment and public health for everyone. It’s something America got right, and it is up to us to defend it.

Pruitt should be replaced by a principled leader who will do what the EPA was intended to do: protect America from men such as Pruitt.

Robert Redford is an actor, director, producer and trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council.