With a letter referencing divine providence, Scott Pruitt, a Southern Baptist layman serving as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, resigned July 5 amid a series of controversies over spending and alleged self-dealing.
Pruitt, a member of First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., and former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee, termed his year-and-a-half in the job a “blessing” but said unrelenting attacks on him and his family “have taken a sizable toll on all of us.”
“My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people,” Pruitt said in his resignation letter to President Donald Trump. “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service.”
Trump said on Twitter he accepted Pruitt’s resignation, adding the former Oklahoma attorney general “has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.” The president said EPA deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, will take over as acting administrator.
Pruitt, a graduate of Baptist-affiliated Georgetown College in Kentucky, sparked controversy from the moment he joined Trump’s cabinet in February 2017. As chief legal and law enforcement officer for the state of Oklahoma, he led a group of state attorneys general with ties to the energy industry in a lawsuit against the agency he was appointed to lead.
Pruitt’s use of the Bible to defend deregulation of fossil fuels and cast doubt about whether carbon dioxide is a primary cause of global warming raised red flags both in the scientific community and among defenders of the separation of church and state.
When President Trump announced Pruitt as his pick to lead the EPA, evangelical leaders including 13 current and former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention and 14 current and former SBC agency heads signed a letter vouching for him as “well qualified” for the position.
“I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service.”
“We do not deny the existence of climate change nor the urgency of this concern,” the December 2016 letter read in part. “At the same time, we reject any ideology that sees human beings as a blight upon the planet and would harm human flourishing by restricting or preventing the rightful use and enjoyment of creation.”
Environmental groups criticized Pruitt as unfit to lead the independent agency of the U.S. government established in 1970 under President Richard Nixon. The Sierra Club compared picking a climate-science denier who conspired with the fossil fuel industry to attack EPA regulations to “putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
In May 2016 Pruitt co-wrote a National Review article calling the debate over climate change “far from settled.”
“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” Pruitt wrote in the commentary co-authored with then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. “That debate should be encouraged – in classrooms, public forums and the halls of Congress.”
Pruitt told David Brody of CBN News in February when it comes to natural resources like natural gas, oil and coal he does not believe “we should keep those things in the ground, put up fences and be about prohibition.”
“The biblical world view with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” the former deacon and Sunday school teacher explained.
Reporting on Pruitt’s resignation, the Associated Press said ethical questions about travel spending, security costs, dealings with industry lobbyists and misuse of government resources had become a source of embarrassment to a president who entered Washington vowing to “drain the swamp.”
Pruitt denied wrongdoing in a number of inquiries and in his resignation letter called personal attacks against him and his family “unrelenting” and “unprecedented.”
“I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people,” he wrote. “Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.”