By Jeff Turrentine
Scott Pruitt's long record of misdeeds and malfeasance finally seems to have caught up with him. Whether his numerous scandals, recently making headlines, will cost him his job as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still an open question.
President Trump has been tweeting his support of his EPA administrator, doing whatever he can to dispel growing rumors of an imminent firing or an abrupt resignation. But given the drip-drip-drip of near-daily revelations, it's safe to assume that news editors already have their Pruitt postmortems written, copyedited and ready to publish at a moment's notice. In this administration, a statement of support from the White House shouldn't be taken as a sign that one's job is safe. (Indeed, it's often an ominous prelude to termination. Just ask H. R. McMaster or Rex Tillerson.)
Meanwhile, there's another big EPA story that's deserving of our attention but getting far less of it. Thursday, a slim majority of senators approved Andrew Wheeler to be the EPA's deputy administrator―the person who could end up running the agency should the current administrator suddenly decide (as so, so many Washingtonians before him have decided) that he really wants to spend more time with his family.
If you're hoping Wheeler could represent some sort of departure from Pruitt's (literal) scorched-earth agenda, he wouldn't. While it may be impossible to imagine anyone worse than Pruitt to lead our nation's environmental policy, plenty of individuals could be just as bad. And as he's shown us on numerous occasions, President Trump has a sixth sense for ferreting these people out and putting them on the executive-branch payroll.
So who is Andrew Wheeler? And what is it about his particular career trajectory that makes the White House, energy-company executives and assorted climate deniers think he's a perfect fit for the Trump-era EPA?
Well, for starters, his most recent job was as an energy lobbyist. His biggest clients included Murray Energy Corporation, which proudly bills itself as the largest coal mining company in America, and whose CEO, Robert E. Murray, vigorously fought the Obama administration's attempts to reduce carbon emissions and strengthen environmental and public health laws. Shortly after Trump took office, Murray, an unabashed climate denier, presented Vice President Mike Pence with a ridiculously pro-coal "action plan" that called for doing away with the Clean Power Plan, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, eliminating federal tax credits for renewable energy, and—yes—halving the EPA's workforce.
In his spare time, Wheeler serves as the vice president of the Washington Coal Club, a powerful yet little-known federation of more than 300 coal producers, lawmakers, business leaders and policy experts who have dedicated themselves to preserving the uncertain future of our dirtiest fossil fuel. Wheeler clearly loves coal, but he's also made time to lobby the U.S. Department of the Interior to open portions of the Bears Ears National Monument to uranium mining.
It gets worse. Before joining his current K Street lobbying firm, Wheeler worked as a legislative aide to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe. Inhofe is without question the most virulent climate denier on Capitol Hill—a man who regularly refers to the science of climate change as "the greatest hoax" ever perpetrated on the American people and who told one radio interviewer that educating schoolchildren on the basics of climate science was tantamount to "brainwashing." When Wheeler's nomination was announced last year, Inhofe effusively praised the decision, saying that "there is no one more qualified than Andrew to help Scott Pruitt restore EPA to its proper size and scope."
In that same statement, Inhofe referred to Wheeler as his "close friend"; indeed, the two are close enough that Wheeler thought it perfectly appropriate to organize a fund-raiser for Inhofe last May, an act that many believe crossed ethical lines.
The line on Wheeler from people in the know is that he's essentially Scott Pruitt's ideological twin—but that his many years as a Washington insider have endowed him with a political savvy that Pruitt sorely lacks. Were the increasingly embattled Pruitt to leave, few believe that this replacement would deviate from Pruitt's path of rolling back protections, propping up the moribund coal industry and putting energy company profits ahead of public health.
From all accounts, Wheeler doesn't appear to be a paranoid, self-aggrandizing morale destroyer with a highly developed taste for taxpayer-funded first-class travel. He has more friends than enemies in Washington and seems unlikely to shoot himself in the foot or otherwise self-destruct. In the end, that might actually make Wheeler even more dangerous than Pruitt—not less.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.