“I did work for a coal company and I’m not ashamed of the work I did for a coal company,” the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, recently told agency employees.
Wheeler’s statements highight an unfortunate reality in the wake of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation last week: Fans of clean air and water should know that many more challenges await. After all, Wheeler’s background could hardly be less inspiring.With his close ties to the fossil fuel industry, Wheeler is cut from the same cloth as Pruit, who resigned in the face of 13 current federal inquiries, sustained public activism and the redefinition of how many scandalous reservations a cabinet-level official can endure before heading for the exits.
Until last year, Wheeler worked as the top lobbyist for Murray Energy, the largest underground coal mining company in the country.
Murray Energy’s CEO, Robert Murray, is a top Trump backer, having donated $300,000 to the president’s inaugural fund. Months later, the company provided the Trump administration with an “Action Plan” that called for cutting the staff at the EPA in half and subsidizing coal-fired power plants, among other things. Four days after that memo was authored, Murray Energy gave $1 million to a Trump-tied Super PAC. Wheeler helped Murray secure a meeting with Energy Secretary Perry in spring 2017 as Murray pushed for a sendless bailout of dirty coal power.
It’s true that Wheeler isn’t exactly being evasive about his true agenda. But if thre was any doubt, fossil fuel industry mouthpiece Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute cleared that up, telling E&E News that Wheeler would not “to take on clients that he doesn’t have some fundamental agreement with.”
Earlier in his career, Wheeler worked as a top aide to Sen. James Inhofe. Inhofe is perhaps the most infamous climate change denier in Congress, after memorably using the presence of snow in February in Washington, D.C. as evidence against global warming.
Wheeler first appeared on Public Citizen’s radar two decades ago, while working as counsel for that same committee, when he receieved a free trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans for the purpose of a proposed nuclear waste disposal site and a power plant. His New Orleans stay happened to coincide with the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, where he stayed at the four-star Westin Canal Place Hotel in the French Quarter, offering a heated rooftop pool, complete health club facilities and a marble bath.
Even if Wheeler is eventually replaced, it seems unlikely that any potential Trump nominee will do their all to uphold the EPA’s mission “to protect human health and the environment.”
Prior to Pruitt’s selection, one of the front runners for the job was Kathleen Hartnett White, who once wrote that “carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant.” Another candidate was Ebell, the head of Trump’s EPA transition team, who in the mid-1990s derided Newt Gingrich as having “soft feelings for cuddly little critters.”
But all is not lost.
The EPA was founded in a bipartisan fashion and there is clear public support for stronger environmental regulations. For example, a recent poll found supporters of a solar panel mandate for new houses outnumbered opponents by almost three to one.
No one should lead the EPA unless he or she can demonstrate a commitment to protecting EPA’s mission — our health, and our environment.