How the New EPA Head May, Or May Not, Protect Our Environment

Scott Pruitt, the scandal-ridden former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently resigned. Pruitt was the subject of several federal investigations for his close involvement with lobbyists, ethics violations, and personnel practices. While the initial news of Pruitt’s resignation was celebrated by environmental activists because of his cutbacks on years of environmental progress, he is being replaced by someone who will very likely be just as harmful to the environment.

Pruitt’s spending and personnel-related scandals were the cause of his resignation, but his dismantling of environmental protections was encouraged by the Trump Administration.  He helped to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, repeal the Clean Power Plan, and weaken automobile fuel-efficiency standards. Under his watch, the EPA approved 24 regulatory rollbacks including the ending of NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System and pushed for one of the smallest agency budgets in decades.

During Pruitt’s tenure, it became evident that fighting climate change and protecting our environment would not be the EPA’s priority.  There is little reason to believe that new Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will be any different.

Prior to taking his first position at the EPA, Wheeler lobbied for coal mining companies and served as vice president of the Washington Coal Club, an organization aiming to protect the future of coal. He also lobbied to open the Bear Ears National Monument to uranium mining.

An EPA Administrator that encourages coal power, along with a White House that has a history of promising that coal plants will stay in business, would bring detrimental effects to our planet.  Coal is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels and has harmful impacts on the environment and on public health beyond its role in climate change. Burning coal releases many harmful pollutants including mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, all of which can cause respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis. They can also cause acid rain and smog, which damage our ecosystems. Wheeler’s work to encourage coal power demonstrates a dangerous lack of interest in protecting our environment.

While some are hopeful that Wheeler will provide more transparency and honesty than Pruitt, it is safe to expect that he will continue Pruitt’s goals of rollbacks and deregulation. NYLCV will continue to advocate for environmental leadership on the local level.