‘He’ll be a good steward of the environment without punishing our states…’
(Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times) The Senate on Thursday confirmed Andrew Wheeler to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, handing the reins of the agency responsible for ensuring clean air and safe drinking water to a former coal industry lobbyist.
The 52-to-47 vote removed the word “acting” from Wheeler’s title, installing him as the agency’s full-fledged administrator.
But it left the EPA’s recent focus unchanged. Under Wheeler, it is expected to continue its efforts to undo the bloat, overreach and corruption of the Obama-era environmental bureaucracy.
That has made it the nemesis of radical leftist environmental groups and put it in constant conflict with states such as California that are leading the push to abandon fossil fuels despite considerable evidence that renewable energy resources have neither proven cost-effective nor been shown to have any net environmental benefit.
Wheeler assumed control of the agency on an interim basis in July 2018 after President Donald Trump chose him to replace former Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned under a cloud of federal investigations. Scrutiny of Pruitt’s lavish spending of taxpayer money and the use of his position to enrich his family turned him into a political liability. When the spotlight became too intense, it fell to his deputy to continue Trump’s agenda of rolling back Obama administration environmental regulations.
Some on the Left immediately rued their efforts to railroad Pruitt as Wheeler proved to be an even more ardent and staunch advocate for reform.
Efforts thus far have included a proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, dubbed by detractors the “War on Coal,” which sets prohobitive limits on carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants.
Wheeler has also continued the push to reduce Mercury and Air Toxics Standards regulations that forced industry to incur excessive costs to regulate alleged air pollution.
Another of the agency’s proposals would strip federal protections from millions of acres of waterways and wetlands following an unprecedented 11th-hour land grab by the Obama administration, which drastically expanded the definition of waterways and could have resulted in massive restrictions on private property and agriculture.
Most Republicans continue to support these policies, but the aggressive anti-regulation push cost Wheeler the backing of some of the more centrist senators who voted a year ago to confirm him as deputy administrator.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine voted against his confirmation.
“I believe that Mr. Wheeler, unlike Scott Pruitt, understands the mission of the EPA and acts in accordance with ethical standards,” Collins wrote on Twitter. “(H)owever, the policies he has supported as acting administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation.”
All Democrats voted no, including Sen. Joe Manchin III, a centrist from West Virginia and a defender of the coal industry.
A longtime Washington insider, Wheeler has often been viewed as a more disciplined version of his former boss. Pruitt’s rush to undo long-standing rules and his lack of familiarity with the complicated process of rewriting regulations led to a raft of lawsuits, many of which succeeded in delaying or stopping his initiatives.
For this reason, some of Wheeler’s foes in environmental advocacy groups worry that he may be a more formidable opponent.
Still, he faces an array of challenges.
Democrats’ control of the House has placed the EPA’s efforts to dismantle clean-water and -air rules under a harsh spotlight.
There has been renewed attention on the agency’s declining enforcement actions, including significant drops in some of the penalties levied against polluters.
The Left’s torqued-up climate crisis, which Wheeler has essentially pushed to the back of the agency’s to-do list, has also been front and center in the new Congress with the emergence of the Green New Deal.
House Democrats have held a series of hearings focused on global warming and the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to help prevent catastrophic floods, wildfires and droughts.
The result is a stark contrast between the everything-is-fine messages coming out of the federal agency tasked with environmental protection and radical leftist lawmakers in the House who believe the EPA has been captured by fossil fuel interests.
At his Senate confirmation hearing, Wheeler showed no sense of urgency to address climate change.
“I would not call it the greatest crisis. … I consider it a huge issue that has to be addressed globally,” he told senators.
In the latest example of the difficulties that lie ahead, the Trump administration recently decided to end already faltering talks with California aimed at resolving a dispute over fuel economy standards. The next stop is likely to be a long legal battle that could continue beyond the 2020 presidential election.
California officials have said they are prepared to go to court to defend the state’s power to set its own, stricter pollution standards for cars and light trucks. Years of litigation could tie up the EPA’s plans to weaken the existing standards and anger car manufacturers caught in regulatory chaos.
Wheeler has spent more than two decades in Washington, including 14 years advising Sen. James M. Inhofe, one of the most prominent and vocal climate change skeptics in Congress. The Oklahoma Republican famously brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to debunk global warming.
Speaking from the Senate floor on Thursday, Inhofe urged his colleagues to confirm Wheeler.
“There’s no one more qualified anywhere in America to handle this job than Andrew Wheeler,” he said. “He’ll be a good steward of the environment without punishing our states, without punishing our farmers, without punishing our job creators.”
(c)2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.