Scandal-plagued EPA chief steps down

WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned Thursday amid ethics investigations of outsized security spending, first-class flights and a sweetheart condo lease.

With Pruitt’s departure, President Donald Trump loses an administrator many conservatives regarded as one of the more effective members of his Cabinet. But Pruitt had also been dogged for months by scandals that spawned more than a dozen federal and congressional investigations.

Talking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump continued to praise his scandal-plagued EPA chief, saying there was “no final straw” and he had not asked for Pruitt’s resignation.

“Scott is a terrific guy,” Trump said. “He came to me and said I have such great confidence in the administration I don’t want to be a distraction. … He’ll go and do great things and have a wonderful life, I hope.”

In his resignation letter to Trump, obtained by The Associated Press, Pruitt expressed no regrets.

“It is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also, because of the transformative work that is occurring,” Pruitt wrote. “However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”

Pruitt, a Republican, had appeared Wednesday at a White House picnic for Independence Day, wearing a red-checked shirt and loafers with gold trim. Trump gave him and other officials a brief shout-out, offering no sign of any immediate change in his job.

EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, will take the helm as acting administrator starting Monday.

“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda,” Trump tweeted Thursday.