Kevin Chmielewski, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whistleblower who played a central role in Scott Pruitt’s downfall at the agency, said he feels vindicated by the administrator’s departure.
“I hate to take a credit for a man losing his job, but I guess I’d have to say that I take the credit,” Chmielewski told The Hill on Friday, the day Pruitt left the EPA.
Chmielewski left the agency in February, saying he was forced out after questioning spending and management practices.
But he didn’t step back after his dismissal. Instead, he guided journalists and environmentalists toward controversies surrounding Pruitt by recommending which agency documents to seek out via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
“I’ve put the breadcrumbs where they had to go and pointed to the FOIAs — the FOIAs have been 99.9 percent of it,” Chmielewski said. “They’ve all come back, and in a lot of cases they were worse than I even knew about.”
He called the public records — released in batches over the past few months — the silent hero behind Pruitt’s departure. Many of those documents were made available as a result of a Sierra Club lawsuit that challenged the agency for missing a legal deadline to produce the records and essentially forced the agency to provide almost 60,000 pages of documents, many of which backed up reports already circulating about Pruitt and how the EPA was run.
“When we didn’t receive responses to our requests, a lawsuit appeared to be the only option for getting the documents, which we — and the public — had a right to under the Freedom of Information Act,” Sierra Club attorney Elena Saxonhouse said in a statement to The Hill on Sunday. “The documents that were produced made it clear that it was even worse than anyone thought, as they provide evidence not just that polluters were giving Pruitt marching orders, but that he was using his power to enrich himself and live in luxury.”
“Under the law these documents should have been forthcoming, but we had to take Pruitt to court to get them, and now it’s clear why,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement in May. “These documents expose a deeply rooted culture of corruption surrounding Scott Pruitt and his dealings in essentially every aspect of his job.”
The records also lent more credibility to Chmielewski’s descriptions of the EPA’s inner workings under Pruitt.
“I’ve been vindicated,” Chmielewski said on Friday. “It’s a relief.”