Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA official under President George W. Bush and current lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, is the Trump administration’s top candidate for Deputy EPA Administrator, the number two position within the agency, Axios reported.
Holmstead, who has spent the last few years lobbying on behalf of some of the largest utilities and fossil fuel companies in the country, has met with Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to Axios, and has full support of the White House. Axios notes “there is no other serious contender for the job at this moment,” reporting that previous candidates, like coal lobbyist and former adviser to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) Andrew Wheeler, have fallen by the wayside.
Axios claims that Holmstead’s appointment would signal a “moderating tilt” within EPA leadership, citing mainly his history at the Bush EPA, where he “pursued regulatory reforms some in conservative circles thought weren’t big enough.” Holmstead has also expressed hesitancy at the idea of repealing the Obama administration’s 2009 endangerment finding, which found that carbon dioxide could pose a threat to public health. That finding has been used to justify numerous EPA regulations on carbon dioxide, and is a primary target of conservative climate deniers, who argue that the finding legally binds the EPA to action on climate change. Holmstead, for his part, has said that repealing the finding would not be “impossible,” but “it’s a lot harder than saying we want to move in a new policy direction.”
But Holmstead’s record should hardly been seen as proof of a potential shift towards the center at Pruitt’s EPA. As Greenpeace’s Polluter Watch notes, one of the defining issues of Holmstead’s career has been fighting against stricter limits on mercury emissions from power plants. As assistant EPA administrator, Holmstead was major proponent of the “Clear Skies Initiative,” which would have allowed three times as much mercury as the Clean Air Act. In 2011, Holmstead argued that “the benefits of reducing mercury are very insignificant.” According to a 2016 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, however, limiting mercury pollution from power plants could save the U.S. economy $104 billion by 2050. The EPA also estimates that stricter mercury pollution controls could prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths each year.
“There is no reason to believe Mr. Holmstead will serve as a moderating force on the extreme agenda of Trump & Scott Pruitt at EPA,” John Walke, Clean Air Director and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told ThinkProgress via email. “In the Bush EPA, Mr. Holmstead loyally executed that administration’s anti-environmental agenda — and was overturned in court more than any prior or subsequent head of EPA’s air program. Holmstead also had clean air achievements, for example cleaning up dirty diesels — but the critical difference here is the Trump administration has embarked on an exclusively harmful air, water, and climate agenda.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Holmstead will join an EPA leadership that has exhibited an unprecedented antagonism towards environmental regulations, particularly any regulations promulgated by the Obama administration. Holmstead has been a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is currently in the process of repealing. In 2010, while working as a lobbyist, he co-authored a bill, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), which would have stripped the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Holmstead also has ties to the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers, serving as an adjunct scholar for Citizens for the Environment, a spin-off of the Koch-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy. According to a 2010 New Yorker investigation of the Koch brothers’ political operations, Citizens for the Environment held the position that acid rain was a “myth.”
Still, some environmental experts argue that having someone with prior experience in the agency is a positive for the administration, which has often tapped people with little to no governmental experience for leadership roles.
“What’s really needed is someone that can connect with the career staff and, from our perspective, the science staff,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress. “He does have experience in the agency, he does understand the agency, and that would be a nice change from the other appointments.”
Still, Rosenberg admits, the bar has been set extremely low for Trump appointments.
“What we’re hoping for is a little professionalism, which doesn’t seem like that big of a stretch, but at this point we’ll take it,” he said.