TP Scandal (Trump/Pruitt) vs TD Scandal (Teapot Dome). Which is worse? President Trump and his hired hand, Scott Pruitt, Head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)? Or former President Harding and his hired hand, Albert Bacon Fall, Secretary of the Interior?  

I argue this question with a good friend, an astute fellow who follows news and politics. One objection I have expressed to him is his use of false equivalencies. He equates, as do so many, the two main political parties (“oh, it’s Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Republicans and Democrats”). He is cynical, as are so many, about politics (“oh, they all do it; they are all ‘liars, crooks and hypocrites;’”). The difference between my friend and so many fellow cynics is he thinks it through, then pragmatically decides on the “lesser of two evils,” and votes!   

The greater of two evils, Trump/Pruitt Scandal, is now upon us. Even conservative Republicans in Florida call for Pruitt’s resignation (Scott Hasley and Jessica Taylor, “EPA’s Pruitt Turns to Damage Control,” NPR, 12 May 18). The list of his transgressions (against nature and/or against ethics in government) is long and repulsive: 

1) “Sweetheart” deals, gifting an apartment to energy lobbyists;

2) Ending regulations that limit fossil fuel (oil, gas) dependency;

3) Supporting Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord;

4) Continuing to deny science (re global and ocean warming), firing scientists and replacing them with oil industry lobbyists (Jay Michaelson, Daily Beast, 29 Dec 17).

Pruitt has damaged environmental safeguards protecting “the most vulnerable of people who bear the brunt of pollution” (Felice Stadler, Environmental Defense Fund, 5 Apr 18). Threats are serious for Afro Americans and other ethnic minorities, who often live closer to polluted areas (e.g., coal waste). There is direct cause-effect: “Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than White children” (EDF). But Whites suffer as well; Pruitt has cut programs reducing the threat of cancer-producing lead in water pipes. The drop in protection is 30 percent below President Obama’s policies and 20 percent below the Bush administration. 

Pruitt has become, in effect, “an industry puppet.” Even before Trump brought him to D.C., he fought the EPA, the agency he now heads, suing them multiple times. He once pasted a pro-oil, anti-environment screed by oil giant, Devon, onto his own letterhead stationary. He still flies to Oklahoma, at tax-payer expense  ($58,000), where he plans to run for the Senate.  

Can anything top this? Was the infamous “Teapot Dome Scandal” worse? It was bad. In the early 1920s, the Secretary of the Interior, under President Warren Harding, was Albert Bacon Fall. He secretly leased government lands to private oil companies, such as Sinclair (receiving at least $200,000 in compensation, a fortune then and now). Later, on discovery, other institutions fought back. The Supreme Court declared the leases fraudulent; the Congress demanded Harding cancel them. 

Harding died in office, some say due to the pressure from the scandal; nevertheless, Republicans (Coolidge) won the presidency in 1924. Apparently the corruption was not enough for the majority of voters, or they didn’t pay attention (sound familiar?). Earlier, another Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, was (and still is) one of the nation’s most faithful environmentalists. Those days are gone. Both scandals were about big oil, greed, profits above principle, and corruption. Both were about anti-progressive ideas—opposed then and now by Republicans. But Teapot was tepid compared with Trump/Pruitt. It had corruption—money under the table. But the Trump/Pruitt scandal ups the ante on despoiling of natural resources, national monuments, and our country’s environment.   

How will it be stopped? The insults match or overpower the injuries. Pruitt (with Trump’s approval) tries to rescind regulations imposed after the disastrous West, Texas, chemical explosion; that calamity killed 15 (Washington Post, 10 May 18). The Supreme Court (if and when a related case should arise) is split; the Republicans stole the constitutional, Democratic choice by President Obama. The Congress (mostly) is silent, aiding and abetting Trump’s lack of ethics and his erratic, careless treatment of the environment. It may take a religious miracle.

One possibility of aid is Pope Francis. He recently reiterated his famous 2015 Encyclical, “Laudato si, On Care of our Common Home.” He met with many money managers and “Titans of the world’s biggest oil companies” at the Vatican (Elisabetta Povoledo, “No Time to Lose,” New York Times, 9 Jun 18), to include the Chairman of Exxon/Mobile, Chairman of British Petroleum, and Chairman of ENI, an Italian energy giant. He appealed to them to help save “our sister—Earth.” 

Pope Francis, always seeking divine guidance but always practical, ever “in the moment,” counseled the assembled “wheeler-dealers” to think of the present (and maybe of their past sins?). But he also urged (good economic as well as ethical advice) thinking of the future: “We received the Earth as a garden-home from the Creator. Let us not pass it on to future generations as a wilderness.” 

If I may follow-up the Pope with my own humble advice, for the beginning of a cleansing, I would advise the U.S. to: 

1) Endow the Environmental Protection Agency with full-blown Cabinet status; even President George H. W. Bush urged that sensible reform back in 1990, in order to join Mexico and European nations.

2) Remove immediately one of Sister-Earth’s chief dispoilers, Scott Pruitt.

Some say the depths of Pruitt’s ethical sins and the audacity of his anti-science, anti-environment actions make Trump look better, by comparison. Others would advise Trump to get rid of this sleezy fellow, a further blight on his legacy. Trump easily can say: “you’re fired!” What is he waiting for? My quarrelsome friend I mentioned above, I believe, would agree with me about this “modest proposal.”   

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Teapot Rock, a distinctive sedimentary rock formation in Natrona County Wyoming. Wikipedia reports that it lent its name to a nearby oil field that became notorious as the focus of a bribery scandal during the Presidential administration of Warren G. Harding, the Teapot Dome scandal. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.