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Former Coal Lobbyist Andrew Wheeler Confirmed to Head the EPA
Wheeler has run the agency since July, when he replaced former administrator Scott Pruitt following a resignation prompted by numerous scandals. As acting administrator, Wheeler has confirmed the fears of environmentalists that he would be a "smarter" threat, pursuing President Donald Trump's deregulatory agenda without the distraction of Pruitt's more obvious corruption.
"Unlike with some nominees, we do not have to speculate about what Mr. Wheeler will do in office," Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) senior vice president for political affairs Elizabeth Gore told The Washington Post in an email. "From his actions as acting administrator for the past eight months, we have clear evidence of his agenda: undermine rules to limit toxic mercury, allow more smog and water pollution, and roll back protections against the threat of climate change. The senators who voted to entrust Mr. Wheeler with our environment know exactly what he will do with that power."
The Senate voted to confirm Wheeler 52 to 47, almost entirely on party lines. Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins was the only member of her party to vote against Wheeler's confirmation.
"I believe that Mr. Wheeler, unlike Scott Pruitt, understands the mission of the EPA and acts in accordance with ethical standards; however, the policies he has supported as Acting Administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation," Collins said in a statement.
Some of Wheeler's most controversial acts include rolling back Obama-era emissions standards for cars and light trucks, replacing Obama's landmark Clean Power Plan with a version that would both increase greenhouse gas emissions and cost more than a thousand lives a year due to air pollution, weakening the protections of the Waters of the United States rule, and allowing coal plants to emit more mercury.
"His actions worsened the air we breathe, jeopardized the water we drink and increased our exposure to toxic chemicals," Natural Resources Defense Council senior director of federal affairs John Bowman said in a statement.
California Air Resources Board leader Mary Nichols, who has negotiated with Wheeler over changes in vehicle emissions standards and whether the EPA would challenge California's waiver under the Clean Air Act to make its own, stricter regulations, said the difference between Pruitt and Wheeler was all style and no substance.
"I have to say that I don't find him materially different than Scott Pruitt in his policies or the mission that he has taken on," Nichols told The New York Times. "The only difference really is that he is more polished and more professional to deal with."
Many Republicans and industry representatives, on the other hand, praised Wheeler's efforts.
"He's been a very solid follow on to Scott Pruitt." Republican energy lobbyist Michael McKenna told The New York Times. "He's followed through in a fairly aggressive fashion on everything Scott started."
- Unfit to Serve: Why NPCA Opposes Andrew Wheeler as EPA ... ›
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- Republicans Praise, Democrats Grill Andrew Wheeler In EPA Chief ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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By Julia Conley
In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.
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The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive: