In Andrew Wheeler’s first radio interview since he took over as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a week and a half ago, he reaffirmed his commitment to President Trump’s deregulatory agenda.
Speaking to Robert Mangino of KDKA News Radio in Pittsburgh, Wheeler said he will “take a hard look at what we’re doing and I want to make sure that what we do will stand up in courts because the American public needs that certainty.”
Under Scott Pruitt’s short tenure as head of the EPA, some 30 proposals to repeal or delay regulations were been introduced — but several of them have been halted or overturned by the courts. As of April, at least 10 rollback proposals were on hold due to lawsuits. And in May, California filed back-to-back lawsuits against the EPA over pesticide and pollution policies.
“Is it your intention to be much more evidence based [than Pruitt]?” asked Mangino, who noted that Pruitt was perhaps vulnerable in the courts because not enough evidence or legal rationale had been laid out for the rule changes. Wheeler replied that yes, he will be “very evidence based.”
“We don’t need regulations that go back and forth depending on who is president or what parties are in power,” Wheeler said. “We need regulations that are going to stand the test of time.”
This will bring more certainty to the regulators as well as the public, Wheeler added, so that they “know what the rules are and know that the air is getting cleaner and that the water is getting cleaner.”
Before coming to the EPA, Wheeler worked at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting where he was a co-leader of the firm’s energy and natural resource practice. According to his profile on the firm’s website, Wheeler “worked on every major piece of environmental and energy-related legislation over the last decade.”
He is also a former staffer of climate science denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and has previous experience working at the EPA under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
All of this indicates that Wheeler has the background to craft strong regulations that may have a better chance of standing up to legal challenges than Pruitt’s policy rollbacks. As the New York Times described, “Mr. Wheeler is viewed as a consummate Washington insider who avoids the limelight and has spent years effectively navigating the rules.”
Many environmentalists therefore worry he will be more effective than Pruitt at implementing Trump’s agenda.
Clean air, clean water, and deregulation are the three things that President Trump asked him to continue working on, Wheeler told the radio station Monday afternoon. When pressed whether accomplishing the goals of deregulation and ensuring a clean environment was possible at the same time, he replied “absolutely.”
In his first tweet as acting administrator, Wheeler linked to a Wall Street Journal article about him that emphasized his plan to stick with Trump’s priorities, including “changing the Clean Power Plan, de-emphasizing climate change initiatives and improving how the agency deals with polluters and environmental crises.”
Until mid-2017, Wheeler lobbied on behalf of Murray Energy, the country’s largest privately owned coal company. During this time Murray Energy gave an “Action Plan” to the Trump administration last March meant to support the coal industry and encourage withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. And working on behalf of Murray Energy, Wheeler helped set up a meeting between the company’s CEO Bob Murray and Energy Secretary Rick Perry where the plan was discussed.
During his radio interview Wheeler echoed the administration’s view that he thinks “we can use coal cleanly” but said that it should be up to the market, not the EPA, to decide which fuel source wins or loses.
Some environmental advocates believe Wheeler has a tough road ahead regardless of his professional background. As Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, previously told Politico: “Any executive with EPA, administrator or deputy, will have a hard time trying to flout the findings of the scientific community and operate against the public will… I don’t think Wheeler would be more effective at that than Pruitt has been.”