Senator: It’s disqualifying Wheeler hasn’t spent more time reading national climate assessment

Andrew Wheeler still awaiting additional staff briefings on National Climate Assessment.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies at his Senate confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on January 16, 2019. CREDIT: C-SPAN/screenshot
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies at his Senate confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on January 16, 2019. CREDIT: C-SPAN/screenshot

Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler acknowledged at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he has been briefed only once by his staff on the U.S. government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA), a report containing dire predictions for the nation that was released almost two months ago.

Wheeler was appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee only one week after Trump formally nominated him to replace former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on a permanent basis. The Republican-led committee is expected to approve Wheeler’s promotion, at which time the nomination would be sent to the full Senate for a vote.

In an exchange with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he has scheduled a number of follow-up briefings with his staff to better understand the findings in the NCA. Scientists and climate experts at 13 federal agencies, including the EPA, spent several years preparing the report.

Markey expressed concern that the nominee hasn’t spent more time reviewing the assessment. “You can say you haven’t had time to read it, but that in and of itself, from my perspective, is a disqualification for having the job,” Markey told Wheeler.


In response to Markey’s comments, Wheeler said, “I didn’t say I haven’t read it. I said I haven’t finished being briefed by my staff, sir.”

The congressionally mandated NCA, released by the Trump administration the day after Thanksgiving, detailed the costly and accelerating consequences of increased global temperatures on the United States. In it, scientists warned that without “substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” annual average global temperatures could increase by a staggering 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century, compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

Markey argued it’s unacceptable that Wheeler hasn’t spent more time reading the NCA. “You’re looking to be confirmed as the head of Environmental Protection Agency, and we’re having a hearing on your worthiness for this job and you’ve very conveniently haven’t had enough time to view whether or not there’s an extra level of urgency to this problem,” the senator said.

A month prior to the release of the NCA, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its own assessment that warned there are only a dozen years to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.


Citing the IPCC report and other scientific assessments, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked Wheeler if he agrees with the scientific community that climate change is one of the world’s greatest crises.

“I would not call it the greatest crisis,” Wheeler answered. “I consider it a huge issue that has to be addressed globally.”

Sanders also pointed out that Wheeler did not mention climate change anywhere in his four-page opening statement. “How does it happen that the nominee to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency does not mention the words climate change at a time when the scientific community thinks that climate change is the great environmental crisis facing this planet?” Sanders asked.

Wheeler responded that the American public should have confidence in his agency’s approach to climate change. He noted that the EPA, under President Donald Trump, is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the agency’s proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule and its proposed fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.

The EPA’s analysis, however, shows the proposed ACE could cause up to 1,630 more deaths in 2030 — and a similar toll in years before and after — compared to the the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which it would replace.

The Clean Power Plan, released in 2015, established a nationwide limit on carbon emission from existing power plants that was expected to result in a 19 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, compared to no changes in emissions policies. The plan also would have other positive impacts such as reducing deadly soot and smog.


The ACE plan, on the other hand, would reduce emissions between only 0.7 and 1.5 percent in the same time frame, compared to a business-as-usual approach, according to the administration’s own figures.

Despite the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to roll back key climate and environmental rules, Wheeler told the Senate panel that climate change is something that concerns him. Asked by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) how worried he is about climate change on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 10 being the issue keeps him up a night — Wheeler answered “8 or 9.”

“Really?” Merkley responded incredulously.