Senate confirms Wheeler as EPA administrator

Pablo Tucker
March 3, 2019

Senators voted 52-47 on Thursday to confirm Wheeler, who was nominated by President Donald Trump after former administrator Scott Pruitt resigned under pressure a year ago. "And his record on climate change is simply disqualifying", he said. Wheeler said this month the EPA plans to take actions on the pollutants but stopped short of setting limits until later this year. He has been running the agency since Trump's first administrator, Scott Pruitt, stepped down in July amid scandals surrounding his management and spending practices. "With each rollback, Wheeler is stacking the deck in favor of the polluting corporations who formerly employed him, leaving our families to pay the price of more toxic pollution with their health". He capped off the month by announcing plans to relax a rule restricting how much mercury and other risky pollutants coal-fired plants can release into the air.

Business interests like oil and coal, eager to see reduced regulation, were quick to hail Wheeler's confirmation while Democrats and conservation groups are anxious that environmental rollbacks under the Trump administration are going too far. He also made it explicitly clear to lawmakers that he intends to continue the Trump Administration's reversal of environmental regulations.

During his confirmation hearing in January, he said he did not believe climate change was a major crisis - a stance that resonates with Trump's skepticism but which clashes with the scientific consensus that global warming will have devastating consequences if not addressed urgently. Mitch McConnell, who has received over $2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry and thousands from coal interests throughout his legislative career, joined with the majority voting in favor of Wheeler's confirmation. So far, that appears unlikely, as many nations aren't hitting the emissions targets they set as part of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

But most Republicans, including Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming, said Wheeler had eased the burden on industry without undermining key environmental protections.

Under Wheeler's watch, the EPA has dramatically cut fines against polluters and worked to roll back fuel efficiency standards as well as carbon and mercury emissions rules. Prior to taking over as acting administrator, Wheeler served as deputy administrator of the agency.

"Regulatory certainty has been key to the historic manufacturing job growth we've seen under the current administration, and that would not have been possible without Andrew's leadership at EPA", Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers said in an statement.

But Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said Wheeler was failing to protect the environment and human health and was "nominated to unravel and undo the environmental protections that are now in place".

"Time and time again Mr. Wheeler has proven that his environmental policies are nearly as destructive and extreme has his predecessors'", he said.

"Unlike with some nominees, we do not have to speculate about what Mr. Wheeler will do in office", she said. "The senators who voted to entrust Mr. Wheeler with our environment know exactly what he will do with that power".

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