This EPA Administrator is a mistake

Nominee Andrew Wheeler has concerning track record

~James Duffy, Staff Writer~

Amidst the worry and panic of the now-longest government shutdown in history, certain federal processes are still underway, including the formal hearing process of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) nominated and current acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler. 

But many not up to speed on the are asking “Who is Andrew Wheeler?” and even more importantly, “What does his potential appointment mean for the future of American environmental policy?” A brief background check on Wheeler’s political history answers these questions, and from an environmentalist’s perspective, this appointment is a massive setback to protective regulations, especially climate action. 

Born in Hamilton, Ohio, the 54 year-old lawyer and policy advisor is an alum of the Washington University of St. Louis’ School of Law, as well as Virginia’s own George Mason University, where he received his MBA after completing his JD. 

During his career, Andrew Wheeler has served the public as an EPA administrative assistant, advisor to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, and advisor to Oklahoma senator and avid climate change denier Jim Inhofe. Before returning to the EPA as Deputy Administrator, Wheeler spent almost 10 years as a lobbyist representing the Murray Energy coal mine corporation of St. Louis, which paid his firm upwards of $300,000 annually from 2009 to 2017. 

As a lobbyist, Wheeler fought Obama administration regulations on coal power plants which were enacted as protections against the impending consequences of anthropogenic climate change, which includes a plethora of crises and issues that result from the burning of fossil fuels and the subsequent carbon dioxide emissions (global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification and many more fall in this category). 

During his overall career, Wheeler has additionally advocated for federal subsidies to the coal industry and staunchly opposed environmental protections and regulations at all levels. While environmental progress demands we move away from coal, which is a widely unsustainable resource from its extraction through to its burning for energy, Andrew Wheeler and has (and will likely continue to) turn back that progress with big coal corporations in his back pockets. 

In 2017, Wheeler was selected by President Trump to be Deputy Administrator of the EPA under Scott Pruitt. Environmental ethics aside, Wheeler’s track record with the EPA so far should be enough to keep him from the administrator’s chair. While in this position, Wheeler broke promises made to the public, as well as violated ethics rules of his position, to not meet with his former lobbying clients to avoid conflicts of interest. According to multiple sources, Wheeler has met with former lobbying clients at least three times since being sworn in.

 Now, since the resignation of controversial former administrator Pruitt in July 2018, Wheeler has been carrying out the responsibilities of the administrator, and as of Nov. 2018, he has been formally nominated for the position. As of Jan. 16 of this year, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has held hearings regarding his appointment, and the next steps on his way to the position is a Senate confirmation. It is likely that the current Republican-majority Senate will appoint this former lobbyist, so it is important to understand what his past and likely appointment could mean for environmental affairs in the United States. 

From an environmentalist perspective, the appointment of Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the EPA could be the worst thing for American environmental policy since Scott Pruitt. Now more than ever we are in need, both as a nation and as a planet, of strong environmental protections and national policies to safeguard against the looming effects of global, anthropogenic climate change. While climate change is just one of the many issues that face environmental legislators today, it is easily the most significant, as its impacts are globally detrimental yet mocked and ignored by our current administration. 

Here are some of the most recent facts and reports from internationally accredited scientific bodies, whose data support the urgency of climate action, which our nation is not likely to receive with Andrew Wheeler as the EPA’s leader. 

Our current government administration, including President Trump, Scott Pruitt, Andrew Wheeler, and many others, continue to write off the scientific facts and studies supporting human-induced climate change as hoaxes, even going so far as to cite snowfall and winter weather conditions as “proof” to discount climate science. 

Meanwhile, more and more research is pointing towards the exact opposite conclusions: climate change is real, it is being caused by human actions like burning fossil fuels and cattle monoculture, and requires immediate action. A new study published this month by an independent economic research firm called the Rhodium Group reveals that in 2018, the United States’ total carbon dioxide emissions increased by 3.4 percent, ending the recent trend of decreasing since 2015, in part due to environmental regulations that Wheeler will likely repeal or prevent. 

Another study published from the journal Science also this month shows that our oceans are warming almost 50 percent faster than the United Nations previously observed as a result of global warming from the emission of aforementioned greenhouse gases that retain atmospheric heat. Global temperature rise is just one of a wide variety of catastrophes involved with climate change, and it is obviously only getting worse. And as if that weren’t enough bad news, the National Academy of Science published new research just this past week that shows Antarctica’s ice reserves are melting six times faster than they were in the early 1980s. These major realizations, which are supported by legitimate scientific studies are merely recent extensions of the international scientific community’s already-solid understanding of anthropogenic climate change, and just how real it is. 

Our country, which is among the very few that still have climate change deniers like Wheeler and his colleagues, needs an EPA administrator who understands and takes this crisis seriously. The EPA, even under the Trump administration, vows to “protect human health and the environment,” both of which are at great stake if/when an anti-environment lobbyist and climate skeptic like Wheeler is put in charge. 

Time will only tell how Wheeler’s work will play out, but until then, it is crucial to remain informed and be ready to act against environmental injustice.

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