Activists are worried acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is going to be much more effective at implementing President Donald Trump’s agenda than the agency’s former chief, who resigned following a series of controversies.
Democrats are acknowledging that Wheeler is more methodical in his mission to unwind Obama-era environmental regulations. They also say his more measured demeanor will help him avoid the distractions that engulfed the EPA during former chief Scott Pruitt’s tutelage.
“It is a close call,” Mindy Lubber, an EPA regional administrator under former President Bill Clinton, told The Washington Post during California’s climate summit earlier in September. Lubber was one of several Democrats at the summit who was asked to weigh which administrator would more effectively administer Trump’s agenda.
Wheeler spent eight years representing coal giant Murray Energy before joining the EPA in 2017. Like Trump, he has expressed skepticism for man-made global warming and is sympathetic to the plight of the U.S. coal industry. (RELATED: What Acting EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler Means For Trump’s Deregulation Agenda)
But Wheeler’s got a few advantages over Pruitt, namely he has spent decades on Capitol Hill and knows how to leverage the powers of the federal government. Veteran Democratic politicians are contrasting Wheeler’s tempered approach to deregulation to Trump and Pruitt’s barnstorming.
“Pruitt was like Trump: In the phrase someone coined, a mixture of malevolence and incompetence,” former vice president Al Gore said. “And those two qualities sometimes cancel each other out.” But Wheeler “may live up to his reputation for being careful in designing his initiatives to survive court scrutiny.”
“Wheeler is much smarter. He’s been around politics,” she said. “He knows the world of the EPA, from inside and outside, and I think he has been consistent and tenacious in trying to find one regulation after the next to roll back.”
Others are breathing a sigh of relief, even as Wheeler continues deregulating.
Wheeler “really tried to moderate some of the proposals related to the clean-car rules, so I give him credit for that,” said Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator who served under former President Barack Obama.
She was referring to Wheeler’s decision in August to pull back on an effort to forgo enforcing stricter pollution controls on diesel freight truck known as “gliders.” He concluded the current rule “does not represent the kind of extremely unusual circumstances that support the EPA’s use of enforcement discretion,” according to a memo he issued.
“He has an ability to make rules that are not on their face so wanton, the way Scott Pruitt did,” McCarthy said before noting that she doesn’t “think he’s going to have an ability to overturn rules that were done based on the science and the law.”
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