WASHINGTON, D.C. — Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), struggled to name Trump administration policies designed to decrease air pollution during a Wednesday event hosted by the Washington Post.
Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin asked Wheeler to name three policies that the Trump administration is championing to reduce air pollution and three policies that are contributing to cleaner water. After naming a proposed EPA rule-making to cut nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel-powered heavy-duty trucks, Wheeler hesitated, saying, “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give three off the top of my head.”
Since the early days of his campaign, President Donald Trump has consistently stated he wants clean air and water. But instead of pointing to which of his policies will improve air and water quality, the president uses empty platitudes.
“You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean,” Trump told the Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday. “Do we want clean water? Absolutely. Do we want clean air to breathe? Absolutely.”
At Wednesday’s event, Wheeler regained his footing, but his answers were not backed up by facts. He claimed the Trump administration’s replacement for the Clean Power Plan — the Affordable Clean Energy rule — will lead to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent by the time it’s fully implemented.
But the EPA’s own numbers show the new rule would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 20 million to 61 million tons, nitrogen oxide emissions by 14,000 to 43,000 tons, and sulfur dioxide emissions by 29,000 to 53,000 tons, relative to the Clean Power Plan, according to John Walke, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s clean air, climate, and clean energy program.
— Washington Post Live (@postlive) November 28, 2018
In response to the question, Wheeler also mentioned his agency’s proposed revisions to the nation’s corporate average fuel economy standards as a policy that will “have an impact on pollution as well.”
Indeed, the Trump administration’s rollback of President Barack Obama’s clean car and fuel economy standards are expected to have an impact on air pollution — an increase in air pollution.
In August, the Trump administration formally proposed to freeze federal fuel economy standards at 2020 levels.
The current Obama-era standards that the Trump administration is seeking to roll back are projected to reduce carbon emissions by 6 billion tons, save consumers $1.7 trillion in fuel costs, and reduce oil consumption by up to 4 million barrels every day.
Trump’s vehicle fuel efficiency rollback, however, is expected to increase pollution equal to firing up 30 coal power plants, according to Earthjustice. By 2040, if the Trump rollbacks are put into place, the annual pollution will be the equivalent of 43 coal-fired power plants, the group said.
Under its fuel efficiency rollback plan, the Trump administration also said it will revoke a waiver that allowed California to set its own fuel mileage and emissions standards.
California Attorney General Xaiver Becerra, another featured speaker at the event, took the stage immediately after Wheeler. After already filing 12 lawsuits against the Trump EPA, Becerra emphasized that California will try its best to fill in the regulatory gaps left by the federal government.
“I don’t perceive what we’re doing in California as opposing the Trump administration or the EPA. I see it as defending what the EPA was meant to do: protect the environment,” Becerra said. “If the EPA and its personnel are not going to do that, then we’re going to step up.”
In response to the Trump administration trying to revoke California’s waiver that allows it to impose stricter vehicle air emissions standards, Becerra said, “For the administration to say they can put a halt to our progress on the environment, and not require that we continue to make progress in reducing emissions is crazy.”
“It’s a matter of doing what we’re doing as long as it’s according to the law. Don’t get in our way,” he said.