The Senate approved Thursday by a vote of 52 to 47 votes against former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Wheeler, who started his career at the EPA in the 1990s but spent years at Capitol Hill before embarking on the private sector, was congratulated by the Republicans for his deregulation program but by the Democrats for its refusal to take action on climate change and public health. the priorities. He has been running the agency since Scott Pruitt, Trump's first director, resigned in July, following multiple scandals surrounding his management and spending practices. In November, Trump announced his intention to appoint Wheeler to the position of senior official, saying he had "done a fantastic job" in his acting role.
At his confirmation hearing in January, Wheeler outlined dozens of important rules that the EPA began to lower over the past two years, and he made it clear to lawmakers that he intended to continue the reversal. of environmental regulation by the Trump administration.
"With our deregulation measures, the Trump administration has proven that there is no compelling federal regulation required to drive environmental progress," Wheeler said at the time. "Certainty and innovation that thrives in a climate of certainty are the key to progress."
Despite the litany of setbacks, the Wheeler EPA has also launched initiatives to reduce lead exposure across the country and to oversee a class of unregulated and sustainable chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds. , which is a serious health problem. risks for millions of Americans. But the agency still needs to take definitive regulatory action on these proposals.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted against Wheeler's confirmation on Thursday that he had worked to loosen federal rules limiting greenhouse gas pollution from power plants and soften fuel for the country's cars and vans.
"I think that Mr. Wheeler, unlike Scott Pruitt, understands the mission of the EPA and acts in accordance with ethical standards. However, the policies that he has supported as an acting administrator are not in the interest of our environment and our public health, especially given the threat of climate change for our country. Collins said, who supported the appointment of Wheeler as an assistant director of the EPA last year. A declaration.
While the Democrats initially regarded Wheeler as a pragmatic technocrat with whom they could forge a handful of political compromises, they expressed disappointment at the key decisions he had made at the agency.
Senator Joe Manchin III, the most Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in West Virginia, voted in favor of Wheeler's confirmation as EPA's deputy administrator. last year. But he decided to oppose Wheeler this time, he said, in light of his willingness to freeze vehicle fuel efficiency standards and reconsider the cost-benefit analysis used by the government. agency to impose limits on mercury pollution already achieved by energy companies.
"As Interim Administrator, he has demonstrated neither his desire nor his willingness to make significant progress on drinking water standards and has lowered air quality standards that have a negative impact on drinking water standards. direct impact on the West Virginians, "Manchin said in a statement.
Democrats used the vote to call for stronger action against climate change. More than half a dozen senators explained in front of an almost empty chamber that the federal government should press for faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. "That should tell us a lot about the fact that Republicans have set up a coal lobbyist to represent the American people, directing the Environmental Protection Agency," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse ( DR.I.).
The world has already warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial levels and a UN report last fall concluded that humans needed to cut their carbon emissions by half in the coming decade in order to reduce their carbon footprint. avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. . Until now, this seems unlikely, as many countries do not achieve the emissions targets set under the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Global Emissions also increased in 2018.
But most Republicans, including John Barrasso (Wyo.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, said Wheeler had eased the burden on the industry without undermining protections environmental issues. Barrasso highlighted EPA's efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emission limits from power generation plans and the federal government's jurisdiction over water bodies in the United States.
"In the last administration, the EPA issued tough regulations that would hurt the economy and increase costs for families. Under the direction of Acting Director Wheeler, the EPA has taken a different approach, "said Barrasso.
Industry representatives acknowledged that Wheeler had helped stimulate the economy by limiting what they considered to be an over-stretching of the federal government.
"Regulatory certainty has been key to the historic growth of manufacturing jobs we have had under this government, and that would not have been possible without Andrew's leadership at EPA," he said. said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers a statement.
Karen Harbert, President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, said Wheeler's "vast experience" had prepared him to become the country's highest environmental steward.
Elizabeth Gore, Vice President of Political Affairs Environmental Defense Fund's Environmental Defense Fund, said in an email that the senators who voted for Wheeler knew exactly what kind of choices they faced.
"Unlike some candidates, we must not speculate on what Mr. Wheeler will do in the performance of his duties," Gore said. "His actions as an interim administrator over the last eight months clearly show his agenda: undermine the rules to limit toxic mercury, allow more smog and water pollution and cancel the protections against the threat of climate change. Senators who voted to entrust our environment to Mr. Wheeler know exactly what he will do with this power. "