Jan 17 2019
This week, as the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I led Democrats in questioning Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s selection to lead the agency.
Frustratingly, this nomination hearing was held even though the agency is shut down, and even though Mr. Wheeler has more than 200 days during which he can continue to serve as both the acting administrator and the nominee. Because the EPA is shut down across the country, drinking water and power plant inspections are not being performed. Superfund sites, including some with radioactive waste, are not being cleaned up. The regional EPA office in Philadelphia, entrusted with the federal role of keeping Delaware families safe from environmental contamination, is all but closed.
Meanwhile, EPA called on staff who are working without being paid to help prepare Mr. Wheeler for this hearing. That’s outrageous, and it’s unfair to all of our dedicated federal employees who are struggling to get by during this unnecessary shutdown.
After Scott Pruitt’s destructive tenure at EPA, I was hopeful that Mr. Wheeler would right the ship at EPA and reverse some of Pruitt’s most dangerous attacks against clean air and water, and our fight against climate change. Unfortunately, on issue after issue, as acting administrator, Mr. Wheeler has continued EPA on the dangerous course set by his predecessor. During the hearing, I urged him to reverse course on a number of proposals – like a recent move to dismantle protections against harmful mercury pollution from power plants. He resisted time and time again.
After Wheeler took the helm at EPA, he wasted no time in moving to dismantle major Obama Administration initiatives aimed at combatting the crisis of climate change. Among these actions was a proposal to replace the landmark Clean Power Plan with a far weaker set of rules that would unleash more air pollution and carbon emissions. Against the wishes of both automakers and environmental groups, he then moved to severely weaken fuel economy standards that would save Americans money at the pump, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Again, when questioned about these serious missteps, he doubled down.
Mr. Wheeler told a colleague of mine yesterday that on a one to ten scale, he would classify his worry about climate change at “an eight or nine.” Well, actions speak louder than words. And all of his actions to date show a complete lack of urgency to take any meaningful steps to keep future generations safer from this crisis. I was looking for some desire from Mr. Wheeler to confront climate change, and I never saw it. In fact, when asked, he would not even call it a crisis.
Like I told Mr. Wheeler yesterday, in Delaware—the lowest lying state in the country—we feel the urgency to address climate change because we see its vestiges every day. We don’t have the luxury of waiting around. Our state is sinking while the oceans are rising. Nearby, Ellicott City has withstood two 500-year floods in one year. Across the country, communities are facing wildfires the size of states, while others start to measure rainfall by the foot instead of the inch. The American people feel the urgency of this growing crisis; they deserve an EPA administrator who will act with compassion and urgency to address climate change.
At yesterday’s hearing Mr. Wheeler failed to alleviate my deep concerns about his nomination, and, from what we’ve seen, I’m as convinced as ever that EPA needs to change course to address real threats to our environment and public health.