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Butte watches as Scott Pruitt resigns from the EPA

EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Beneveto, on one of his trips to Butte for a panel discussion with key Superfund players in May, addresses a public audience at Montana Tech. With EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's resignation, some in Butte worry about Benevento's future as well as the future of Butte and Anaconda's cleanup. But Benevento says the cleanup will continue at the same pace and that his job is not in jeopardy. 

Doug Benevento, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 8, said Thursday that the resignation of the EPA's top official, Scott Pruitt, will have no effect on Butte or Anaconda's cleanup or timelines.

President Donald Trump said early Thursday afternoon that he had accepted the resignation of scandal-plagued Pruitt.

Pruitt's resignation came days after two of his former senior staffers spoke to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigators and revealed new, embarrassing details in ethics allegations against Pruitt.

Samantha Dravis, who recently resigned as Pruitt's policy chief, told investigators last week that Pruitt had made clear to her before and after he became EPA administrator that he would like the attorney general's job, held then and now by Jeff Sessions.

Pruitt had also been dogged for months by a seemingly unending string of scandals that spawned more than a dozen federal and congressional investigations.

With Pruitt's departure, Trump loses an administrator many conservatives regarded as one of the more effective members of his cabinet. In a resignation letter released to media outlets, Pruitt expressed no regret for any actions he had taken since being tapped by Trump to lead the EPA last year.

Pruitt's resignation comes at a time when Anaconda is in the final throes of negotiating its Superfund site and puts Anaconda's future into question. All the parties involved in the Smelter City's cleanup have until July 31 to reach an agreement in principle.

Similarly, Pruitt's resignation throws Butte's future into question.

All the parties and agencies involved in the Butte Hill cleanup reached their agreement in principle in late January. But that agreement has not yet been signed.

Despite the uncertainty caused by Pruitt's departure, Benevento said the commitment the EPA has made to address Butte and Anaconda comes from the highest levels of the agency and will not change.

"Our commitment remains the same to Butte and Anaconda," Benevento said Thursday. "We are still pursuing cleanup of these sites, and we're still on the timeline we outlined previously."

Despite the many voices of approval for Pruitt-appointed Benevento in Butte and Anaconda, Pruitt raised concerns with the public and environmentalists as he worked relentlessly to dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations that aimed to reduce toxic pollution and planet-warming carbon emissions.

During his one-year tenure, Pruitt crisscrossed the country at taxpayer expense to speak with industry groups and hobnob with GOP donors, but he showed little interest in listening to advocates he derided as "the environmental left." Those groups applauded his departure.

Like Trump, Pruitt voiced skepticism about mainstream climate science and was a fierce critic of the Paris climate agreement. The president cheered his EPA chief's moves to boost fossil fuel production and roll back regulations opposed by corporate interests.

But despite boasts of slashing red tape and promoting job creation, Pruitt had a mixed record of producing real-world results. Many of the EPA regulations Pruitt scrapped or delayed had not yet taken effect, and the tens of thousands of lost coal mining jobs the president pledged to bring back never materialized.

Despite that, some in Butte say Pruitt's exit is a disappointment.

Mick Ringsak, who was a President George W. Bush political appointee and former head of the Republican Party in Silver Bow County, said that, while there are many things Trump has not gotten right, one thing he did get right was choose Pruitt.

"Pruitt was getting things done," Ringsak said Thursday.

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Pruitt established a Superfund Task Force last year. That task force, headed by Albert "Kell" Kelly, recommended a more market-based approach to Superfund. Kelly resigned in May.

Another Kelly-led task force recommendation was the creation of an emphasis list of Superfund sites. Pruitt announced his "emphasis list," which included both Butte and Anaconda, late last year. Both towns have subsequently seen an acceleration of their cleanup that neither town had previously experienced.

Longtime Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily said Thursday that he was not "a Scott Pruitt fan," but he now worries what Pruitt's resignation will mean for Benevento's job.

"I just hope Doug (Benevento) survives this Trump administration," Daily said by phone.

Benevento said he doesn't believe Pruitt's parting will impact his own tenure. And his plans to travel to both Butte and Anaconda later this month have not changed, he said.

Despite Pruitt's scandals, Trump has been approving of Pruitt's efforts to reduce regulations that the administration says curb business growth. Trump wrote on Twitter, "Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job (...)." Trump landed in Montana later Thursday to stump for GOP candidates.

Trump tweeted Thursday that EPA Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry executive, will assume the acting administrator position Monday.

Benevento said Wheeler is aware of the work the EPA has done in Butte and Anaconda.

"He's always very supportive and wanting to know how he can advance that work," Benevento said.

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