On Thursday, after a scandal-plagued tenure as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt resigned his post. In his place, his deputy, Andrew Wheeler, will be installed as acting head of the agency. Pruitt’s run was disastrous for the environment, but Wheeler probably won’t be any better, and he could be even worse.
Up until 2017, Wheeler was a pro-coal, anti-science lobbyist (one of the most powerful in Washington). And as acting administrator position at the EPA, he will be able to further implement the deregulation of environmental protection that Pruitt and the Trump administration set out to achieve in the first place.
Scientists have come to an agreement that fossil fuels like oil and coal cause the greatest damage to the environment, but the EPA’s mandate to soften regulations on these industries will likely ramp up. While Pruitt was sidetracked by scandal — such as claims of fiscal mismanagement — Wheeler is a nose-to-the-grindstone workaholic and will be able to achieve the agency’s updated mission with little fanfare.
Earlier this year, the EPA, under Pruitt’s direction, proposed gutting auto emissions standards, leaving the last federal rule to help curb greenhouse gases in the bin. Shortly thereafter, Pruitt put forward a “transparency” rule to limit public health studies for the EPA to use when writing their regulations. In June, he went even further, issuing a formal notice to ask how the agency manages cost-benefit analyses — a move many saw as his attempt to give major environmental polluters access to game the system. Later the same month, he proposed a regulation to replace an Obama-era rule protecting drinking water for over 117 million Americans. Many expect these proposals and more to go full throttle with Wheeler at the helm.
In a statement Thursday, the National Resources Defense Council criticized Wheeler’s installation as acting EPA head, citing his background and pro-coal stance. “Andrew Wheeler is equally unqualified to serve as the nation’s chief environmental steward,” said Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director for government affairs at the NRDC. “Like Pruitt, this veteran coal lobbyist has shown only disdain for the EPA’s vital mission to protect Americans’ health and our environment. Make no mistake: we’ll fight Wheeler’s pollution agenda with the same vigor as we did Pruitt’s.”
(photo via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)