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Ethics-impaired former Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt may have left the agency, but the damage has, in large part, been done and, in many ways, is continuing.

More: Scandal-plagued EPA Administrator Pruitt resigns

It is no secret that the “E” in “EPA” should stand for “Energy companies.” President Donald Trump’s administration has been hellbent on rolling back as many environmental protections as it can identify, all in the name of clearing pesky public-health roadblocks for their friends at gas, coal and other fossil-fuel companies.

More: States join lawsuit against EPA over pesticide

Let’s be clear right up front: No one is looking to unnecessarily hamper energy companies of any kind (although the markets and customer demand are irreligious on this front). Encouraging business and protecting the environment can be done with wise, cooperative policy. It is not an either-or proposition.

But very little about the Trump administration is either wise or cooperative.

Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA more than a dozen times before taking its reins, was an ardent foe of environmental protections in general and the agency in particular.

More: Senate confirms Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator

His successor, acting Chief Andrew Wheeler, is likewise antipathetic to environmental protections, as his resume, complete with a stint as lobbyist for the coal industry, attests.

When Pruitt wasn’t traveling in style on the taxpayer’s dime; ordering underlings to find him cheap housing and his wife a cushy, six-figure job; lavishing unnecessary high-tech office toys on himself; meeting with high-rolling big energy movers and shakers; secretly altering his official schedule to hide his shenanigans; and pretty much touting every professional, ethical and moral standard in Washington, he was taking direct aim at the nation’s environmental protections.

More: Lawmakers assail EPA chief over ethical missteps

And with the help of a complacent Republican Party (which, despite some 14 ongoing congressional investigations of Pruitt at the time of his resignation, was largely silent on the secretary’s continued “service”), the EPA has reversed dozens of rules. Another 30 or so remain in its immediate crosshairs.

These figures come to us from the New York Times, which recently detailed 76 different EPA regulations that have been or are in the process of being overturned.

The loosened restrictions are flagrant and frightening. Among the areas where polluters have been given freer rein to despoil the environment:

  • Air pollution and emissions. (Example: A requirement that oil and gas companies report methane emissions has been canceled.)
  • Drilling and mineral extraction. (Example: Nearly all of America’s coastal waters have been opened to offshore oil and gas drilling.)
  • Water pollution. (Example: A rule that banned mining companies from dumping coal debris into local steams has been revoked.)

There are plenty of other examples under plenty of other categories. Together, they amount to a war on environmental protections and those who benefit from them.

And let’s be clear again: The ultimate goal of environmental laws and guidelines — the reason the EPA exists — is not to protect “air” or “water,” but to protect the American people.

Or, as the Times story put it, “All told, the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks could lead to at least 80,000 extra deaths per decade and cause respiratory problems for more than one million people, according to a recent analysis conducted by researchers from Harvard University.”

And that’s without taking into account any detrimental effects these changes would have on the ongoing crisis of global climate change — an issue ignored by Trump and many in his administration to their everlasting shame.

More: Environmental groups denounce Trump override of climate plan

Scott Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA was an embarrassment. But it is the direction of the agency, rather than the director, that must be changed if the American people are to ever again breathe easy.

More: EDITORIAL: Scott Pruitt's resignation overdue, but regrettably, his policies will live on

And that won’t happen until another ethics-challenged national embarrassment, Pruitt’s former boss, likewise departs.

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