At a November 2017 Senate meeting, Donald Trump’s nominee to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator position minimized his objections to climate science by speaking in legal jargon. As a coal lobbyist with ties to climate change deniers, he fits the pattern of the deregulatory and pro-business agenda of the EPA under Trump.
On January 31st, the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee voted along party lines to push Wheeler’s nomination forward. And in April, he was confirmed as deputy director.
Head of the EPA Scott Pruitt said of Wheeler, “He has spent his entire career working to improve environmental outcomes for Americans across the country.” This statement is quite ironic considering Wheeler’s years in the fossil fuel industry. Pruitt has spent the majority of his time at the EPA dismantling environmental regulation with his next target being The Clean Power Plan. On February 8th Pruitt said, “Human activity contributes to global warming, but heating up the planet might not be such a bad thing.”
However, the science is conclusive; to put it lightly, climate change is a very “bad thing.” According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose work is underpinned by hundreds of scientists worldwide, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” Due to climate change, Earth is already experiencing global temperature rise, sea level rise, biodiversity loss, and unbreathable air.
As a former coal lobbyist, Wheeler has a clear bias that makes him the wrong choice for the EPA. According to Politico, “As a lobbyist, Wheeler may need to obtain a waiver to serve at the EPA” due to an earlier Trump executive order. Even with a waiver, his extensive connections to the fossil fuel industry would make his appointment to the EPA a blatant conflict of interest.
A deregulatory agenda is the last thing needed at this critical time for the planet. This EPA represents regression in a time when immense progress in fighting climate change is needed. Not only that, but the development of new technology is making renewable energy such as solar, wind, and biomass economically viable. The determination to keep dirty fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas the dominant energy source is environmentally and economically shortsighted. Furthermore, the problems with the Pruitt-Wheeler EPA go beyond environmental issues.
Scott Pruitt’s ethical violations are piling up, and 39 senators and 131 representatives are calling for his resignation. Pruitt’s abuse of taxpayer money comes in various forms including flying first class, hiring extra security, and renting a D.C. apartment for a ridiculously low amount from an energy lobbyist. In any other administration, Pruitt would have been fired months ago, but this is not your typical administration. He fits the pattern of Trump appointing people to run the very department that they want to dismantle.
The good news is that the courts have a pattern of opposing Pruitt’s harmful policies. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the EPA needs to move forward with the 2015 Ozone Standards and identify locations that do not meet these standards. The Ozone Standards is part of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) which sets standards for harmful pollutants.
Ozone is the main component of photochemical smog, which is the brown smog that forms when vehicle emissions and other chemicals are exposed to sunlight. Considering ground level ozone causes a myriad of health issues such as breathing problems, lung and heart diseases, reduced resistance to colds and pneumonia, and eye, nose, and throat irritation, it is encouraging that the EPA is being forced to comply. The NAAQS were put in place to protect the environment and human health so their enforcement is critical.
We see real consequences when corruption and greed run rampant in the agencies that are supposed to protect us. Maybe this is too much to ask but, hopefully someday we can return to an Environmental Protection Agency that actually protects the environment. Only time will tell how much damage the Pruitt-Wheeler EPA will cause.