Wheeler Denies Climate Crisis in his Confirmation Hearing

Andrew Wheeler, the Acting EPA Administrator, appeared before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee yesterday for his confirmation hearing and was greeted by protesters and angry questioning by the Committee’s Democratic members.  The protesters began shouting “Shutdown Wheeler” just as he began to read his opening statement, and were quickly removed, as he raised his eyebrows in disdain (see video above.)  Drawing fire from the Democrats on the Committee, Wheeler said that climate change is a “global issue” but “not the greatest crisis,” and did not even mention climate change in his opening statement.   He did not appear to know what was in the “Black Friday” climate report that made headlines in late November — but disputed the media’s characterization of the report — he said that only took one briefing on the report’s findings before the government shutdown.

  • The Democrats on the Committee challenged Wheeler to explain his lobbying ties and to defend his rule rollbacks that in some cases had weakened standards beyond what the industries themselves requested.
  • The Republicans praised Wheeler for the regulatory rollbacks such as removing federal protections for millions of miles of wetlands and waterways that they said had burdened farmers and developers.

While working as a lobbyist at the beginning of the Trump Administration, Wheeler represented coal companies that were pushing hard for regulatory rollbacks for the coal industry.  Wheeler claimed in the hearing not to have had a copy of the “wish list” of rules the industry wanted to be weakened or eliminated, but then one Democratic Senator produced a photo of Wheeler in a meeting with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in which Wheeler is holding the wish list in hand.

Why This Matters:  While Wheeler was subjected to a grilling yesterday, it probably won’t matter and he will likely be confirmed quickly.  Sadly, his substantive failures to “protect” the general public from pollution, which is the mission of the agency, do not disqualify him.  Indeed, the fact that he is in the pocket of the fossil fuel and chemical industries makes Wheeler more desirable to the President and many members of the Senate who are propped up by dark money and special interests.  And Wheeler is a shrewd Washington lawyer — he knows how to get things done in DC, which will make him far more effective in the job than his predecessor.  

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