Sad but true: since he became acting head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler has ramped up Scott Pruitt’s relentless attack on public health and environmental safeguards.
Wheeler is leading efforts to severely weaken or altogether eliminate meaningful limits on the largest sources of climate pollution – including cars, power plants, and oil and gas production. He is undermining policies that protect against toxic and smog-forming air pollution. He is systematically weakening the new bipartisan law that protects Americans from toxic chemicals.
These rollbacks risk thousands of additional early deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional asthma attacks every year.
After Scott Pruitt’s disastrous tenure, EPA needs a leader who will return to the agency’s life-saving and essential mission of protecting communities from harmful pollution. Yet President Trump has said he will nominate Andrew Wheeler to officially serve as EPA Administrator.
Wheeler’s existing record as Acting Administrator shows he is hostile to EPA’s mission and would double down on attacking core safeguards. He is unfit to lead EPA.
Here are a dozen safeguards Wheeler has attacked in his six months as acting head of EPA. This isn’t an exhaustive list — unfortunately there are other vital protections Wheeler has attacked, further imperiling clean water, clean air, and healthy communities across America.
- Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal-fired power plants. These safeguards reduce mercury, arsenic, lead, acid gases, and fine particulates from coal-fired power plants — saving up to 11,000 lives a year and protecting children from exposure to mercury, which can cause brain damage. The protections are fully implemented and have been in place for years, but Wheeler is now proposing to undermine them – an extreme step opposed by labor leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, the power sector industry, members of Congress from both parties, health organizations, moms’ groups, and faith groups.
- Clean Car Standards. Wheeler is proposing a dramatic weakening of these win-win standards — a step that would lead to billions of tons more climate pollution and cost the average American family hundreds of dollars in higher gas bills every year. Wheeler is also attacking states’ long-standing authority to implement more protective clean car standards. A recent exposé uncovered that the oil industry has had a major behind-the-scenes role in pushing this senseless rollback, which even Honda and Ford have disavowed.
- The Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan established America’s first limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Wheeler is proposing to replace this policy with a program that would increase pollution from the power sector. EPA’s own analysis indicates that by 2030 Wheeler’s plan would result in as many as 1,600 more early deaths every year as compared to the Clean Power Plan. Wheeler’s proposed rollback comes at a time when the government’s own reports underscore the need for urgent action to tackle the climate crisis, and in spite of nationwide support for protective limits on power plant climate pollution.
- Oil and gas methane pollution standards. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that also worsens local smog conditions. Wheeler is proposing to weaken national standards, a step that would increase methane pollution from new and modified oil and gas facilities by more than 40 percent — even though EPA’s latest analysis shows the current standards are even more cost-effective than anticipated. Wheeler has also advanced efforts to remove methane limits for the oil and gas industry altogether.
- Toxic chemical safeguards. In 2016, Congress passed a bipartisan new law strengthening protections against toxic chemicals. Wheeler has continued his predecessor’s efforts to weaken and limit this new law — failing to implement transparency requirements, allowing EPA to ignore known exposures to dangerous chemicals when evaluating their risks, and weakening review of new chemicals before they can be sold.
- Carbon pollution standards for new power plants. Wheeler is proposing to significantly weaken carbon pollution standards for new coal-fired power plants, a step that would allow new coal plants to be built without meaningfully addressing their enormous climate pollution levels.
- Pollution guidelines for landfills. Municipal landfills are America’s third largest source of methane pollution and are also a source of hazardous air pollutants and smog-causing pollution. Wheeler is proposing to delay implementation of already long-overdue pollution reductions from landfills.
- Protections against upwind pollution. Upwind coal-fired power plants are substantially contributing to smog problems in states downwind. Maryland, for example, suffers from pollution from 36 coal-fired power plant units in five upwind states that have pollution controls but are not fully operating them. The Clean Air Act calls on EPA to protect states from upwind pollution — yet Wheeler denied petitions from downwind states asking for relief.
- Soot air quality standards. EPA is tasked with regularly updating national air quality standards for soot — also known as particulate matter — which increases risks of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks. Wheeler disbanded EPA’s independent particulate matter review panel, which was comprised of 20 leading experts tasked with informing the agency’s assessment of current particulate matter air quality standards. That step lead to major concerns that the scientific integrity of these standards is at risk.
- Smog air quality standards. EPA is also charged with regularly updating standards for smog, or ground-level ozone, which exacerbates asthma and the risk of heart attacks. Wheeler has proposed to shortchange several important portions of the science-based review cycle for the current smog standard, among other changes to the review process — steps that would harm the review’s “quality, credibility, and integrity,” according to leading scientists.
- Soot standards for wood smoke pollution. Updated standards for wood smoke pollution, issued in 2015, are poised to phase in gradual improvements that will help clean up outdated, extremely highly polluting wood stoves. Once fully in effect, these standards will dramatically reduce soot pollution and save hundreds of lives every year. Wheeler is proposing to delay implementation of these life-saving standards.
- Ban on deadly paint stripper. Even Scott Pruitt committed to finalizing a ban on paint strippers containing methylene-chloride that are currently used by workers and consumers nationwide and are tied to a long record of death from acute exposure. Just since the ban was proposed reported deaths include two workers refinishing bathtubs, a young man repainting his bike, and a do-it-yourselfer refinishing a floor. Yet Wheeler has failed to finalize this ban that’s critical to protect both workers and the public, allowing continued consumer and commercial use of this deadly product.