Column / Harder Line

How America got its most powerful EPA boss

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Scott Pruitt is the most aggressive leader of the Environmental Protection Agency in its almost 50-year history. But he didn't come out of nowhere. His ascendance to the agency reflects changing politics of the past few decades.

My thought bubble: When the nonstop Twitter-sized news cycle makes everything seem like the biggest and newest deal ever, tracking down historical context is a worthy exercise. Pruitt's environmental views are actually in line with most of the Republican Party since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. What's changed is how empowered Pruitt is under President Trump, the emergence of climate change as a top environmental issue and a prior administration that was aggressive in its own right issuing regulations.

In interviews with five former EPA bosses and many other longtime agency watchers, a clearer picture emerges of where Pruitt's still new but already controversial stint fits into EPA's history.