The EPA was founded under a Republican president because of overwhelming bipartisan support for protecting clean air, clean water, and the health of all people living in America. Yet under the current administration and Scott Pruitt, the EPA has repeatedly failed to fulfill its mandate – choosing to protect fossil fuel companies and other polluters rather than Americans. As a result, public health has has been put last and is at risk.
Right now, Scott Pruitt’s job is in jeopardy because of an unprecedented series of scandals surrounding his abuse of both his position and taxpayer funds. But we cannot afford to allow these headlines to distract us from the more important issue at hand: this administration is reneging on its responsibility to protect the health and welfare of Americans. In a frightening move further proving the point, the Senate just voted to confirm Andrew Wheeler — a paid coal lobbyist who has spent the past decade working to water down, undermine, and eliminate safeguards that EPA puts in place to protect the public — for the #2 position at EPA. If Trump finally does decide to fire Pruitt, Wheeler is likely to replace him. Meanwhile, the fact that the Senate has confirmed Pruitt’s deputy will only embolden both of them to double down on safeguards that protect public health.
A different type of leadership at the EPA could have presented the Agency with an opportunity to refocus on its core mission of protecting the environment and public health. Under Wheeler, however, the great fear is that we are going to get more of the same — or even worse. Wheeler, in his role as a tool for fossil fuel companies, has lobbied against national efforts to reduce carbon pollution and other toxic emissions. In other words, he has advocated against the very regulations that the EPA is mandated to uphold – by Congress – to protect Americans from pollution and natural disasters, many of which are now exacerbated by climate change. In his most recent position as a lobbyist at the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, Wheeler worked on behalf of Murray Energy, a company which has actively used the Trump Administration to enact policies that prop up the polluting coal industry.
Instead of embracing our country’s transition to clean, renewable energy, Wheeler is set to double down in support of policies that hurt our economy and our communities. Current and former coal miners are facing one of the worst black lung epidemics in years. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, residents have been forced to rely on bottled water for over 1,000 days because of Duke Energy’s failure to clean up toxic coal ash in the water supply. With Wheeler now a senior leader at EPA, it’s only a matter of time before more Americans are exposed to dirty air and contaminated water as a result of his push to gut environmental protections.
Under the current administration, the EPA has already failed to take reasonable steps to protect American citizens from polluted air, toxic water, and black lung disease. With the confirmation of a coal lobbyist to help lead the agency, the message is clear: the EPA is now “Every Polluters Ally” dedicated only to protecting polluter profits, rather than citizens.
The U.S. Senate failed to protect Americans by confirming this nominee. No matter what happens next at the EPA, the Senate must investigate and scrutinize Wheeler’s record so that he cannot seize the agency entirely on behalf of the polluters who have been paying him to lobby for them. Right now, the outlook is dim.