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5 People Calling Out EPA Acting Head Wheeler for Putting Polluters First

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Protesters interrupt the confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler on Capitol Hill Jan. 16 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

This week, people across the country are joining environmental leaders to speak out against the nomination of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to lead the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As Scott Pruitt's hand-picked successor, Wheeler has continued to put polluters over people, most recently by using the last of his agency's funding before it expired in the government shutdown to announce plans to allow power plants to spew toxic mercury and other hazardous pollution into the air.


Wheeler recently appeared at a Senate confirmation hearing, auditioning for a promotion during the government shutdown—while his own agency's employees are going unpaid. While Wheeler attempted to answer for his pro-polluter policies, people aren't buying it.

Charles Witek, a recreational fisherman in New York, is concerned about the impacts of more mercury emissions on our fish due to Wheeler's rollbacks.

Wheeler has proposed dramatically weakening the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard for coal-fired power plants—meaning there could soon be more mercury pollution in our air and water. Although Wheeler has denied that it will have an impact, any risk of increase mercury pollution is concerning to Charles Witek, a recreational fisherman from Long Island:

"I have participated in the recreational tuna fishery since the late 1970s, and look forward to fishing with my wife and my friends, and bringing home the occasional yellowfin, albacore or bigeye for dinner. If the Administration goes through with its action, and eases restrictions on mercury emissions, the simple act of eating the fish that we catch could put our health in danger."

Tambry Lee, a Marine Corps vet, doesn't want what happened to her because of the Aliso Canyon gas leak to happen to other people under Trump's EPA.

Wheeler claimed in the hearing that—under his leadership—the EPA has worked to reduce climate pollution through controlling methane pollution. In reality, he proposed a weakening of the New Source Performance Standards regulating methane. This loosening of standards could impact Americans like Tambry Lee, a Marine Corps vet who has suffered from health impacts from California's 2015 Aliso Canyon Gas leak:

"I don't want what happened to my family to happen to others. Instead of creating loopholes for the worst actors in the oil and gas industry, and giving them the green light to continue polluting the air our children breathe, Acting Administrator Wheeler should do his job and protect our communities, and our children, by keeping in place and fully implementing standards, that would reduce harmful pollution from new and modified oil and gas sites."

Christian Acevedo, a student in Miami, knows that we must act climate change now, even if Wheeler doesn't.

In a heated exchange with Senator Jeff Merkley, Wheeler said that his level of concern about our changing climate was an 8 or a 9 out of ten. If that's true, he has a weird way of showing it: under policies put forward by the EPA during his tenure, climate pollution from power plants and automobiles is expected to rise sharply compared to the track set by the Obama administration. This worries Christian Acevedo, a student living in Miami, Florida:

"At the current rate of sea-level rise, Miami will someday sink into the ocean. High tides are already cause flooding in parts of the city. Despite this, many of our political leaders pretend that nothing is happening."

Ellen Aknin, a domestic violence survivor in Colorado, feels the daily impact of dirtier air that Wheeler's policies are making worse.

The dangerous impacts of Wheeler's policies extends beyond a rising sea. The rollback of the Obama-era clean cars standard means an increase in both air and climate pollution, with consequences for people across the country. Whether through vehicle exhaust or the impacts of climate change, people like Ellen Aknin, a domestic violence survivor from Colorado whose lungs were damaged by an assault from her ex-husband, are paying the price:

"I've lived in Denver for the past nine years. I love this place, I love my home, but I have trouble breathing here all the time. Even mornings when the air quality is labeled as moderate, I have to carry around an oxygen bag when I go outside. So during the recent wildfires here and in California, which blazed more monstrously than ever before, I was trapped inside my home."

Dr. Yolanda Whyte, a pediatrician from Georgia, knows how Wheeler's policies are bad for vulnerable children.

Since day one at the EPA, Wheeler has made it clear that he sides with polluters, not people. His first harmful policy action proposed weakened protections on the disposal of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal that, if not properly disposed of--as Wheeler has proposed, can contaminate water with dangerous substances. As a pediatrician, Dr. Yolanda Whyte knows all too well what this policy change can mean for children:

"It's my duty to protect children from the damage that coal ash contaminants can cause to their health, by guiding the EPA in reducing their risk. Arsenic, mercury, and radiological substances should not be allowed in our water supply. Clean water is a basic human right."
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