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Embattled EPA chief Pruitt needs to go

We were hopeful when Scott Pruitt was tabbed 14 months ago to lead the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency. We thought Pruitt might benefit an agency that in the past sometimes seemed ignore and even work against the needs of U.S...

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(Michelle Rook photo)

We were hopeful when Scott Pruitt was tabbed 14 months ago to lead the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency. We thought Pruitt might benefit an agency that in the past sometimes seemed ignore and even work against the needs of U.S. agriculture.

We were wrong, our optimism misplaced. Though some of Pruitt's policy decisions are positive, growing and legitimate concerns about his ethics and leadership style have ravaged his credibility and left him unable to lead effectively.

There isn't space here to mention all the controversies that have swirled around Pruitt. The list includes costly and unnecessary travel, the flouting of government rules and regulations and, most troubling, personal financial relationships with companies affected by EPA decisions.

One example of many: In the first half of 2017, Pruitt lived in a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, paying the far-below-market rate of $50 a night. And while Pruitt was living in the condo, the EPA approved a project that benefitted a client of the energy lobbyist's firm.

That sort of behavior isn't new. When Pruitt was a state senator in Oklahoma, he bought a lobbyist-owned home at a steep discount from the market price. Years later, when Pruitt was Oklahoma's attorney general, he awarded more than $600,000 of state contracts - which were not competitively bid, according to published reports - to the lobbyist's law firm.

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His open disdain for transparency and public accountability is worrisome, too.

For example, in August 2017 Pruitt came to North Dakota to meet with some the state's top elected officials. The meetings were held behind closed doors with an unprecedented level of privacy and security.

Two reporters with the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which like Agweek are owned by Forum Communication Co., were, at the insistence of Pruitt staffers, harangued by University of North Dakota police. The reporters were merely standing outside the UND building where the meetings took place.

We realize that Pruitt has his supporters. They like the changes he's making, and so they're willing to shrug off the controversies - or insist that, despite massive and well-documented evidence, it's all "fake news."

We agree with some of what EPA had done under Pruitt's watch. We were particularly pleased when it scrapped overreaching plans to revise the Waters of the U.S. rule, a revision that had generated strong opposition from many U.S. ag groups.

But Pruitt's questionable ethics and leadership style more than offset whatever good he may have done. His actions - deliberate and repeated - should have no place in our political system.

This isn't about which regulations are good or bad. It's not about right or left, Republican or Democrat, rural or urban. It's about one man's performance as a public servant.

The EPA deserves better. Americans deserve better.

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Scott Pruitt needs to go.

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