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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Scott Pruitt is lodging, spending, flying and staffing his way into a hot political mess that could end his career — antics that are both ridiculous and irrelevant in the grand scheme of America's environmental policy.

Bottom line: People who think Pruitt's policies would end if he leaves need a reality check. Everyone working under Pruitt, and anyone that would replace Pruitt as chief of the EPA, would embody similar policies. The dismantling of the last administration’s environmental agenda would continue as long as Republicans control the White House.

The big picture: Pruitt's environmental views are actually in line with most conservative elected officials since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. What's changed is how empowered Pruitt is under President Trump, along with most GOP lawmakers’ dismissive view of climate change and the prior administration’s expansion of regulation. None of this changes when and if Pruitt resigns.

The politically appointed officials surrounding Pruitt all support similar policies as Pruitt, and any potential replacement would likely hold similar values.

  • Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator for air issues, is leading the rollback of former President Obama’s carbon rules for power plants.
  • Wehrum is also working on eventually proposing a much scaled-back version of those rules, given current law compels it.
  • Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s nominee to be EPA’s No. 2, could win Senate confirmation as soon as next week.
  • Wheeler has lobbied for coal producer Murray Energy, whose CEO Bob Murray is close to Trump, since 2009, according to federal lobbying disclosures.
  • Jeff Holmstead, a lawyer at the firm Bracewell, was in the running for the top EPA job. He supports Pruitt’s agenda, including both the regulatory rollback and other overhaul efforts within the agency.

What we‘re hearing:

  • If Pruitt resigned, “I think it would slow down the implementation, but I don’t think it would cause the course to change,” said Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute who worked on Trump’s transition team at EPA.
  • A Pruitt replacement could be more moderate on the rollback of some of Obama’s rules, according to a research note published Friday by independent research firm ClearView Energy Partners.

There is good reason why Pruitt’s antics have blown up into a bigger issue than his policies. Most people relate more to a juicy story about someone’s character and ethics than they do to the policy that ultimately makes the biggest difference.

“Whether any given policy proposal is advantageous or disadvantageous is a complicated problem. Indeed, it often leads to intense debate. But information suggesting corruption and exploitation of power is easy to understand and clearly signals low trustworthiness.”
— Christopher Johnston, political psychology professor, Duke University

One conservative industry official said Pruitt comes off as a “prima donna.” For Pruitt, these controversies could raise questions about his future political aspirations. For Trump, the storyline provides yet another Cabinet member behaving badly.

But Pruitt’s antics are a distraction from what really matters: The midterm elections later this year could shake things up. If Democrats gain control of one or both chambers of Congress, GOP efforts to roll back Obama’s regulations would be more difficult with increased congressional oversight.

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Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.

National Archives releases Trump White House records to Jan. 6 panel

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The National Archives on Thursday evening released records of former President Trump's White House to the House Jan. 6 Select Committee, the agency said.

Why it matters: The committee now has documents that Trump attempted to keep hidden, arguing that their release would undermine his executive privilege.