Who Is Wheeler Working For, Anyway?

© 2019 George Danby, staff editorial cartoonist for the Bangor Daily News.

© 2019 George Danby, staff editorial cartoonist for the Bangor Daily News.

Andrew Wheeler was confirmed as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year, succeeding Scott Pruitt as Worst Trump Appointment Ever.

Wheeler, most recently a flack for the coal industry, the former vice president of a coal industry federation, and a former staffer to U.S. Senate dinosaur James Inhofe, was confirmed by the Senate on a 52-47 vote. You’ll want to make a note of the names of the 52 senators who voted for this dangerous clown. You’ll want to know who empowered Wheeler to poison you, to exacerbate climate change and to suck up to the chemical and fossil fuel industries. As the Environmental Defense Fund’s Elizabeth Gore said,

Unlike with some nominees, we do not have to speculate about what Mr. Wheeler will do in office,” Gore said. “From his actions as acting administrator for the past eight months, we have clear evidence of his agenda: undermine rules to limit toxic mercury, allow more smog and water pollution, and roll back protections against the threat of climate change. The senators who voted to entrust Mr. Wheeler with our environment know exactly what he will do with that power.

There’s not much question who Wheeler thinks he is working for now. A review of his public schedule conducted by CNN in February found that between last April and August, Wheeler attended more than 50 meetings with representatives of groups regulated by the EPA. In comparison, he met with three nonprofit environmental groups during that time.

In an appearance on CBS News in late March, Wheeler told Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett that the threat posed by climate change is “50 to 75 years out.”1 What else can you expect from a former Inhofe staffer? The Sierra Club has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the EPA seeking any scientific evidence that backs up Wheeler’s claim. If Wheeler follow his predecessor’s tactics, he’ll stonewall and delay any response, forcing the Sierra Club to go to court. Because, of course, there isn’t any.

Wheeler has led the EPA effort to relax air quality standards. Two in particular: particulate matter and ozone, which are grave health risks. Wheeler’s technique was brutalism. First, he disbanded the Particulate Matter Scientific Advisory Committee. Then he failed to convene the Ozone Advisory Committee. Those two committees are resources for the seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Then he failed to put an epidemiologist on the CASAC. When the CASAC said it didn’t have science to decide particulate matter and ozone standards, Wheeler announced the EPA would be relaxing the standards for both particulate matter and ozone. Not very subtle.

Wheeler didn’t stop there. Under his direction, the EPA kicked off its advisory committees anyone who had a current EPA grant. The EPA claimed this represented a conflict of interest. But the EPA concluded that researchers working directly for regulated industries did not. Following this new policy, the agency removed several independent experts from CASAC and replaced them with people from state and local regulatory agencies and chose a chairperson with fringe scientific views who consults for the American Petroleum Institute.

The newly stacked CASAC could not come to consensus on a long-held scientific understanding: that fine particulate matter is linked to early death. Many thousands of studies in the past several decades have built evidence demonstrating this link. There’s even strong science linking particulate matter to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But Wheeler’s reconfigured CASAC rejected the science and went with the industry. At a time when the science strongly indicates we are currently allowing too much air pollution, Wheeler is leading the charge to allow more.

It’s not just attacks on air quality. Wheeler is going after clean water, too. As just one example, the EPA this past week announced in an “interpretive statement” that Clean Water Act protections would no longer apply to pollution or sewage discharged into underground wells or aquifers — even if the polluted discharge flows directly into drinking water sources such as lakes or rivers.

Let’s be clear (sorry) about this: it’s not something the public wants. The public strongly supports clean air and water. It’s something industry – especially the coal industry – wants. Wheeler is plainly working for his (nominally) for clients. No doubt, he will be richly rewarded later.



  1. Wheeler’s claims were sharply contradicted by a report from his own agency, issued Friday. The report’s message: Start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make weather catastrophes worse. 

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