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Trump Wants Coal-Friendly Wheeler to Run the EPA Permanently

Politics
Trump speaks while Wheeler stands by at the White House State Leadership Day Conference for Alaska, California and Hawaii in October. Win McNamee / Getty Images

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he would nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to permanently run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CNN reported.


Wheeler has served as acting administrator since July, when Scott Pruitt, Trump's original pick to head the agency, resigned following a buildup of scandals. In the four or so months since he took over, Wheeler has remained relatively free of personal scandals while continuing the agenda Pruitt started of rolling back environmental regulations and sidelining career agency scientists.

"Acting administrator—who, I will tell you, is going to be made permanent," Trump said at a Medal of Freedom ceremony Friday during which he announced his decision, CNN reported. "He's done a fantastic job. And I want to congratulate him. EPA, Andrew Wheeler."

Environmentalists disagreed with the President's assessment of his job performance.

"Putting a coal lobbyist like Andrew Wheeler in charge of the EPA is like giving a thief the keys to a bank vault. There shouldn't be a single day when the Administrator of the EPA schemes with corporate polluters to attack public health, but Wheeler has made it a regular habit because he is unable to give up his corporate polluter ties. As Acting EPA Administrator, Wheeler has kept his door open to coal, gas, oil and toxic chemical corporations, prioritizing their profits over the health and safety of our families. He should be swiftly rejected by any Senator who cares about protecting the health of their constituents," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Some of the policies Wheeler has overseen at the EPA have included:

1. Rolling Back Fuel Efficiency Standards: Pruitt started the push to freeze the nation's fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks at around 37 miles per gallon as of 2021, instead of increasing them to around 54 miles per gallon by 2025, as was planned during the Obama administration. But Wheeler followed through, announcing the new standards in August and going so far as to take comments on a proposal revoking California's waiver to set its own, tougher standards.

2. Putting More Mercury in the Environment: Wheeler himself drafted a proposal that would lift restrictions on how much toxic mercury and other pollutants coal plants can release.

3. Climate Inaction and Climate Denial: Wheeler was the one to unveil the Trump administration replacement for former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan. He touted the plan even though the EPA's own calculations found it would increase the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere and could lead to the deaths of more than 1,000 Americans each year. During Wheeler's tenure, the EPA's "climate change" page disappeared entirely.

4. Sidelining Scientists: Since Wheeler took over, changes made to the agency have reduced the voice and authority of career scientists. The head of the Office of Children's Health Protection was placed on unexplained administrative leave in late September. Then, a day later, the agency announced it was reshuffling its science offices by combining the Office of Science Policy and the Office of the Science Advisor into a single Office of Science Integration and Policy, a move that effectively demotes the agency's top scientist.

Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate to act as Deputy Administrator, but will have to be confirmed again in order to permanently take Pruitt's place. While the Senate remains in Republican control, a hearing could still be tense, as Democrats are likely to question Wheeler aggressively on his performance so far, CNN reported.

"Mr. Wheeler must come before our committee so that members can look at his record as acting administrator objectively to see if any improvements have been made at the agency since he took the helm," Delaware Senator Tom Carper, lead Democrat on the committee that oversees the EPA, told CNN.

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