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These fired air pollution experts just did the job the EPA didn’t want them to do

Most people don’t show up to a job after getting fired — but that’s exactly what former members of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee did last week.

The group of air pollution and public health experts reconvened to review the latest science and offer recommendations for new air quality regulations, one year after they were fired by then-acting head of the EPA Andrew Wheeler. After days of discussions, the newly renamed Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel issued a letter on Tuesday warning that current regulatory limits pose a threat to public health and urging stricter standards to limit particulate pollution, which has been linked to increased risk of a host of heart and respiratory diseases.

“We wanted to put on the record, here’s all the things that should have happened, had we not been disbanded,” Christopher Frey, the head of IPMRP, told Grist. “And here’s the science advice that the agency would have gotten from us.”

Frey, an environmental engineer and the previous chair of the EPA committee that provides science-based recommendations when the EPA is making air pollution rules, said there was little doubt about the need for stricter regulations. “The evidence is just so strong, it’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Frey.

Federal science has never been perfect — elected officials have always balanced political motivations with government scientists’ findings, and the current administration isn’t the first to pick and choose evidence that supports its agenda. But the state of science is a lot worse than that under Trump: A bipartisan report earlier this month found that federal science is at a “crisis point” due to unprecedented measures that include the EPA’s replacement of panels of experts with researchers affiliated with the industries they regulate.

The IPMRP isn’t just trying to sound the alarm about the Trump administration’s alarmingly anti-science decisions. In addition to raising public awareness, Frey and other members of the panel want their scientific expertise on the record to support any legal cases against the EPA’s new regulations. “No matter what this agency does in terms of rulemaking on particulate matter, given all of the things they’ve changed to the review process, I’m sure they’re going to be challenged in court for making arbitrary and capricious changes to the process itself,” said Frey.

And if you’re still not convinced: The committee within the EPA currently responsible for making scientific recommendations on air pollution wants input from the experts who went on to form IPMRP. In a letter to Andrew Wheeler this April, they suggested that he reinstate the fired scientists, “or appoint a panel with similar expertise.”

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These fired air pollution experts just did the job the EPA didn’t want them to do

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Andrew Wheeler confirmed as the nation’s 15th EPA administrator

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Andrew Wheeler has been confirmed as the nation’s 15th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Senate voted 52-47 to confirm the former coal lobbyist, who has served as acting EPA chief since former Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid ethics scandals last July.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Wheeler said he was “deeply honored” and looking forward to carrying out President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, voted against Wheeler after having supported his nomination as deputy administrator last year. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican to vote against the nomination. She opposed Pruitt’s nomination but, like Manchin, previously voted to confirm Wheeler as the agency’s No. 2 official.

In a statement Wednesday announcing her decision, Collins said Wheeler is “certainly qualified” but that she has “too many concerns with the actions during his tenure as acting administrator to be able to support his promotion.”

“The policies he has supported as acting administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation,” she said.

His confirmation adds yet another member to President Donald Trump’s Cabinet who as recently as 2017 was on the payroll of the industries he now regulates.

In 2017, the Senate confirmed Alex Azar, a former executive at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. In January, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defense after James Mattis’ abrupt departure. The next day, David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist and No. 2 at the Department of the Interior, became acting secretary when Ryan Zinke resigned amid mounting ethics investigations.

A week later, Trump nominated Wheeler, who in December became the longest-serving acting administrator in the EPA’s history, to take on the role permanently.

Thursday’s confirmation comes a day after the Senate voted 52-46 to end debate on the nomination. In a speech on the Senate floor following that vote, Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, said that in some cases Wheeler has “accelerated the environmental damage and regulatory zeal” that Pruitt began.

“Time and time again Mr. Wheeler has proven that his environmental policies are almost as destructive and extreme has his predecessors’,” he said.

Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said Wednesday that Trump picked the right man for the job. Regulatory proposals to replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, and to revise the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule, which sought to safeguard drinking water for millions of Americans, shows that Wheeler “is serious about clear air and clear water while also understanding there’s an important role for states and local communities to play,” Barrasso said.

Wheeler’s record-breaking reign as acting administrator was marked by an unprecedented assault on greenhouse gas regulations amid historic wildfires and hurricanes that scientists say offer a preview of the rapidly warming world to come.

In August, Wheeler unveiled a proposal weakening fuel economy standards for new vehicles in a move seen as a “giant giveaway” to oil companies even as electric automobile technology made huge leaps forward. Weeks later, he proposed gutting a landmark Obama-era power plant regulation, allowing, by the EPA’s own calculus, enough pollution to cause an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year.

The planet has already warmed more than 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. As a result, many Americans born after the mid-1970s have never experienced average temperatures unaffected by human-caused emissions. But in October, the United Nations released a landmark report predicting catastrophic effects of warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees F) — a fate that’s all but certain unless world governments halve emissions by 2030. A month later, federal scientists from 13 agencies, including the EPA, confirmed the findings in a National Climate Assessment that forecast U.S. average temperatures surging “9 degrees F (5 degrees C) or more by the end of this century.”

In response, Wheeler, despite admitting he hadn’t read the multiagency report, dismissed its findings and threatened to intervene in the drafting of the next National Climate Assessment.

In December, Wheeler delivered another two victories to the coal industry that, until mid-2017, had paid him to lobby the government. He proposed loosening requirements that coal-fired power plants reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He capped off the month by announcing plans to relax a rule restricting how much mercury and other dangerous pollutants coal-fired plants can release into the air.

In February, Wheeler announced that the EPA would consider regulating toxic, cancer-causing “forever chemicals” contaminating drinking water across the country — a move critics said amounted to a delay that could sicken millions. Last week, he broke off negotiations with California over a national vehicle fuel economy standard, setting the administration up for a lengthy legal fight with the Golden State, which is allowed under the Clean Air Act to set its own pollution limits.

Environmental groups reacted to Thursday’s confirmation much as they did when Wheeler took the reins as deputy administrator.

“Wheeler wants to turn the EPA into a wish-granting service for polluters, no matter the cost to public health or wildlife,” Emily Knobbe, EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “But it’s only a matter of time before his dirty dealings land him in the same trash heap as his predecessor.”

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Andrew Wheeler confirmed as the nation’s 15th EPA administrator

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The EPA made two big announcements this week that could affect your water

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The Environmental Protection Agency has been busy this week, moving on two major water-related issues. Whether either action will result in cleaner water, though, is still up for debate.

The EPA proposes replacement to Clean Water Rule

The EPA, along with the he U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, proposed a replacement to the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, which defined which bodies are protected by the longstanding Clean Water Act, extending protections to some contested waterways. That didn’t sit well with some farmers and ranchers, who felt the law was an overreach and too burdensome on their operations.

With its new rule, the EPA seeks to redefine “waters of the United States” so it applies to fewer bodies of water. Critics of the move — including Sierra Club and the Cincinnati NAACP — have dubbed the new proposal the “#DirtyWaterRule.”

President Trump has denounced Obama’s Clean Water Rule since he was on the campaign trail, eventually signing an executive order asking the EPA to review the rule. The Agency suspended the rule in January 2018 until a federal judge reinstituted it in 26 states later that year.

When the EPA released a statement last December saying it planned to propose a new definition of the nation’s waters, acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “Our simpler and clearer definition would help landowners understand whether a project on their property will require a federal permit or not without spending thousands of dollars on engineering and legal professionals.”

Now the public will have 60 days (until April 15) to comment on the proposed change.

The EPA moves (but not too fast) to limit toxic “forever chemicals”

The EPA released an action plan on a class of widely-used, man-made water and oil-repelling chemicals known as Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The so-called “forever chemicals,” named for how long they persist in your body and the environment, are found in everything from food packaging to non-stick pans and dental floss. They’ve also been found in around 6 million Americans’ drinking water. A growing body of research suggests that PFAS could have negative effects on fertility, hormones, immune systems, and place people at a higher risk of certain cancers.

Last spring, the EPA said it would evaluate whether it should set a cap on PFAS levels in drinking water. The plan released Thursday disappointed lawmakers and advocacy groups because the agency signaled that it may take until the end of the year to determine whether it will set a maximum contaminant level for the substance.

“This is a non-action plan,” Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement Thursday. “The big winners today are polluting corporations, not the people affected by this industrial waste in their drinking water supplies.”

Critics say there is already ample evidence of the chemicals’ harmfulness and that the administration should act more quickly. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement: “After a year of hemming and hawing, Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler’s EPA is punting on action to tackle a serious public health risk lurking in Americans’ drinking water … I hope this episode makes my Republican colleagues think twice before confirming Andrew Wheeler as EPA Administrator.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have supported taking action on PFAS; Politico reported last month that the EPA’s decisions on the chemical now could affect the acting administrator’s confirmation to the post.

In a statement, Wheeler lauded the EPA’s PFAS plan: “For the first time in Agency history, we utilized all of our program offices to construct an all-encompassing plan to help states and local communities address PFAS and protect our nation’s drinking water. We are moving forward with several important actions, including the maximum contaminant level process, that will help affected communities better monitor, detect, and address PFAS.”


The EPA made two big announcements this week that could affect your water

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Pruitt’s EPA tenure helped sharpen a Trump-era climate strategy

There’s no debating that President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, led until recently by the flagrantly corrupt Scott Pruitt, has dealt a series of woeful and lasting setbacks to our planet’s habitability.

With coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler stepping in as interim EPA administrator, things probably won’t get better for federal environmental policy anytime soon. There’s a good chance Wheeler’s EPA will have fewer soundproof booths, cheaper pens, and a less-massive security detail. But Wheeler is on record saying his agenda will be the same as Pruitt’s. And a less scandal-ridden EPA administrator could do even more damage.

With all three branches of government stacked against them, environmental advocates have to focus on geographically-targeted policy. Luckily, it is a strategy that most are already accustomed to. So beyond the smog at the federal level, you can make out a constellation of small, but still massively consequential, sub-national victories emerging for champions of clean air and a stable climate.

Julie Cerqueira, the director of U.S. Climate Alliance, an association of state governors, points to recent successes in improving energy-efficiency standards and coordinating to build out zero-emission vehicle infrastructure. “There are strategic opportunities for the states to work together in ways that can help shift the market towards lower carbon and more resilient solutions for the nation,” she says.

The rapid rise of renewable energy means that the transportation sector is now the leading source of emissions in the U.S. So two groups of states on the West Coast and in the Northeast are already working together to “rapidly accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and reduce transportation related greenhouse gas emissions,” says Sarah McKearnan, a policy advisor for Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a group advocating for better air quality.

Working against them is that one of the Trump EPA’s main goals is to undo Obama-era vehicle emission standards, a fight that will center on California due to the state’s status as a testbed for stricter motor vehicle regulations. Environmental groups are ready for the fight, having become more litigious in defending these regulations and other policies already on the books.

Pruitt’s “success” at the EPA was mostly in decimating staffing and morale, as well as eliminating science. But with Trump’s recent nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, it’s likely the next Supreme Court won’t do much to stop the tearing down of regulations. To have any success, organizations suing on behalf of the environment will have to tailor their arguments to win over Chief Justice John Roberts, who now has the swing vote.

“We have sued Trump 77 times so far,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is so beholden to the polluters they are supposed to be regulating that they make a lot of mistakes in their headlong rush to gut protections for our air, water, and health. Because of that, we’ve had many victories in court, and we’ll have many more.”

Luckily for greens, the environment is inherently local — and cities and states aren’t just passing policies the feds won’t, they’re also setting ambitious targets to tackle climate change. (That, you’ll recall, is the phenomenon that’s no longer mentioned by executive branch agencies.)

Since Trump was elected, more than 1,400 mayors have agreed to shift their cities to 100-percent renewable energy by 2035, in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Last fall, St. Louis became one of the biggest cities so far to set that lofty goal. The city of Berkeley, California, went even further recently, declaring an “existential climate emergency” and aiming for net-negative emissions by 2030.

It’s ambition like that, if realized, that will provide climate leadership for the rest of us in the Trump era. Meanwhile, Siegel, of the Center for Biological Diversity, is aiming her organization’s resources at least in part on making sure cities and states’ actions match their rhetoric.

“We are pushing the state of California, which is viewed as a model for climate leadership, to be a model worth following,” says Siegel. “In California, we have a moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing that has been in place since 2013, due to our litigation victories. We expect the Trump administration to try to restart leasing this summer. We will fight that in the street and in court.”

Sierra Club Legal Director Pat Gallagher says that both public opinion and the economics support his organization’s efforts to expand the use of renewable energy throughout the country.

“We’re using every means at our disposal to protect clean air, clean water, and healthy communities,” he explains. “We’re going to hold the line against rollbacks of environmental and public health protections by emphasizing that science and the law are on our side.”

The truth is, climate change is happening so fast that we can’t wait for a national-scale policy to slow it down. So rather, we should double down on this huge momentum throughout the country. We need bold, near-term leadership — and one good way to make that happen is with as many people in as many places as possible leading by example.

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Pruitt’s EPA tenure helped sharpen a Trump-era climate strategy

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A love letter to Scott Pruitt

The EPA lost its top grifter Thursday afternoon, as Scott Pruitt tendered his resignation to President Donald Trump. We don’t know, right now, which straw broke the camel’s back — it could’ve been the tens of thousands of dollars he spent on first class flights, the secret calendar he used for private meetings with industry representatives, or maybe he just couldn’t take getting yelled at in a restaurant by a woman and her bemused toddler. (Trump told reporters on Air Force One there was “no final straw.”)

Whatever led to Pruitt quitting, that boy is gone. BOY. BYE.

Scott Pruitt was likely the most scandal-ridden, brown-nosing, oil-loving, climate-denying administrator to ever walk the halls of the EPA. Here’s the thing, though: We’re gonna miss him. Before you get mad and bring your toddlers to Grist HQ, hear us out.

Most of the time, the things that go on in the federal government, however consequential they may be, seem to bore Americans to tears. (Just look at voter turnout stats for midterm elections.) Whether you liked it or not, Scott Pruitt made the public pay attention. Fancy lotions, tactical pants, Chick-Fil-A? That’s drama. Secret phone booths? A 24/7 security detail? That’s intrigue. Getting your aides to pay for your hotel rooms? That’s petty. Pruitt was a veritable scandal-factory of his own making, and the wrongdoings were so juicy we literally couldn’t look away! I mean, the dude spent over 1,500 taxpayer dollars on a dozen fountain pens. Pens!

As time went on, it began to seem like Pruitt didn’t actually care about how many bridges he burned, how many federal investigations were launched, or even whether other members of the GOP were calling for his resignation. But we cared! The scandals were so egregious, so bizarre, so shallow and grasping, that people kept digging and digging to see what else the guy was up to. And each ethical misdeed focused attention on the work he led: dismantling decades of environmental regulations, cutting EPA staffing numbers to below Reagan-era levels, and striking mentions of climate change from the agency’s website.

People got mad! They marched, wrote letters, signed petitions, and sent the EPA multiple copies of Global Warming for Dummies.

No wonder the administration rails against “fake news.” Real journalism was able to take down a Trump loyalist.

Now, someone else wears the tactical pants at the EPA. His name is Andrew Wheeler. He’s been the agency’s deputy administrator since April, and we haven’t heard a peep out of him. Under his leadership, we’re probably in for far less scandal. But you can bet he’ll keep rolling back regulations.

Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from Murray Energy — a company owned by that guy who sued John Oliver for libel after the comedian called him a “geriatric Dr. Evil” on his HBO show. Wheeler also worked for Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma senator who brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that global warming isn’t real.

The fact of the matter is that the new EPA chief could very well be worse for the environment than Pruitt. And with an administrator who doesn’t have a taste for grifting at the helm, some of those assaults on the environment, coated in propriety and due process, might slide by under the media’s radar.

So, yeah. Thanks, Pruitt. Thanks for stepping in it so many times, for sparking more than a dozen ethics investigations, for creating so many distractions you ended up drawing attention to the environment. (Hey, that’s our job!) Thanks for making people get mad. Here’s to hoping they stay mad.

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A love letter to Scott Pruitt

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If Pruitt gets fired, the EPA is stuck with this coal lobbyist

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Senate is about to confirm the man who would take over the Environmental Protection Agency should Scott Pruitt step down. Andrew Wheeler, an energy lobbyist who has worked for the Senate’s biggest climate change denier, faces a confirmation vote for deputy administrator, the number two position at the agency, as soon as Tuesday.

Environmentalists say that having Wheeler in place would reassure the fossil fuel industry that it still has an “inside man” for the nation’s top environmental post should Pruitt finally succumb to his mounting ethics scandals.

“It would be similar to having a tobacco lobbyist heading up the American Lung Association,” Judith Enck, an Obama-era former EPA regional administrator, said in an email. “Wheeler would continue the polluting policies of Pruitt but perhaps have the good sense not to violate federal ethics rules.”

That’s because Wheeler has had decades of experience working for some of the biggest critics of environmental regulation, including Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, who has distinguished himself as the most vocal climate change denier in Congress. As a lobbyist with the firm Faegre Baker Daniel, one of his major clients has been the nation’s largest private coal company, Murray Energy, whose CEO Bob Murray has been a generous Republican donor and Trump supporter. Among his other clients are the uranium mining company Energy Fuels Resources, the utility Xcel Energy, the biofuel firm Growth Energy, and the liquified natural gas company Bear Head LNG — all of which are regulated by the EPA.

Last fall, after months of speculation over who would fill the empty post, Trump nominated Wheeler. His hearing coincided with that for the Council of Environmental Quality nominee Kathleen Hartnett White, whose nomination was pulled after protests from Democrats. But Wheeler’s nomination proceeded, and after several lengthy delays, his confirmation vote advanced out of committee in February. Pruitt’s fortunes changed dramatically since then, and there is now the very real possibility he may soon exit EPA — leaving Wheeler to take over as acting administrator.

Bob Murray has been one of the most aggressive advocates for the EPA to review its endangerment finding. This finding, which forms the scientific basis for the EPA’s regulatory climate work, considers greenhouse gasses a public health threat. Shortly after Trump was inaugurated, Murray provided the administration a policy wish list in which rescinding the endangerment was a top priority. Wheeler admitted in his confirmation hearing that he was handed the same list (Wheeler was still lobbying on behalf of the company as recently as summer 2017).

Early in his career, Wheeler spent four years at the EPA during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. Afterward, he spent 14 years in the Senate working for Senator James Inhofe and his Environmental Public and Works Committee. (Inhofe is the author of a book on climate change entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.) As Wheeler’s own biography states, he worked on “greenhouse gas emissions legislation, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the Clear Skies Act and the Clean Air Interstate Rule” — but he omits that Inhofe’s staff often worked to undermine greenhouse gas regulation. According to HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman, Wheeler cultivated a reputation as a “bully” for peppering environmental regulators with what they said were politically motivated congressional probes.

Wheeler takes after his former bosses. In 2010, he wrote that a controversy where climate scientists’ emails were hacked proved that the EPA’s climate endangerment finding should be reconsidered. “While the [Obama] Administration and their allies have tried to downplay this fact over the last few weeks, the fact is that this undermines their legal position as the Endangerment Finding is challenged in the courts.” And when Wheeler appeared before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee last fall, he misrepresented the scientific consensus about human contribution to climate change. “I believe that man has an impact on the climate, but what’s not completely understood is what the impact is,” he told the committee.

His congressional experience may mean Wheeler is more adept at navigating the controversies that have diminished Pruitt’s star in the Trump White House.

Bruce Buckheit, a consultant who was the EPA’s head of air pollution enforcement during the Clinton administration, explains that in contrast to Scott Pruitt, who was “an outsider located in Oklahoma City and new on the scene in the last few years,” Wheeler brings to the post more substantial “depth of knowledge and contacts in Washington.”

But Wheeler is still vulnerable, namely over the ties to his former clients. The Intercept recently reported that he held fundraising parties for Senators John Barasso, a Wyoming Republican, and Inhofe last May, after he was rumored to be tapped for EPA, breaching the wall between political fundraising and public service.

The deputy administrator is not a public face for the agency, but the position has significant power in implementing Trump’s vision of crippling environmental protection. “He would have a lot of opportunity to do long-term damage on the personnel front,” Buckheit says. Past deputies have been involved with everything from making staffing decisions, such as appointments to the EPA’s science advisory committees, overseeing operations, working with regional offices and state agencies — all of which are issues that can affect EPA staffers’ morale and work.

“The role of deputy is kind of an inside job, at least for most deputies,” said Wake Forest University’s Stan Meiburg, who served as acting deputy administrator in the Obama administration. “Our standing joke in the deputy community is we do anything the administrator doesn’t want to do.”

Under Trump’s ethics executive order issued last year, Wheeler would not be able to participate in matters involving issues he lobbied on for at least two years. However, the White House has freely handed out waivers to officials, such as the EPA chemicals officer Nancy Beck, a former lobbyist, which allows them to work on policy that otherwise would be seen as a conflict of interest. According to ethics experts, there’s little standing in the way of Wheeler advocating for issues that may overlap with his former clients.

“Our current government ethics rules do not prevent a professional lobbyist like Wheeler from taking a leadership position in the agency that he has been trying to influence from the outside,” Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University, St. Louis, said in an email. “Wheeler’s appointment to the EPA exemplifies the motto: ‘Personnel is Policy.’”

When the Senate first held his confirmation hearing, it was in a different climate. Wheeler was the man to carry out Pruitt’s deregulatory vision. Soon, he could find himself in a very different kind of role, which is why environmental groups sounded the alarm again last week on the upcoming vote.

“Circumstances have changed,” John Coequyt, Sierra Club’s senior director of federal policy, said in an email. “[The] swift and insufficient committee process that has brought Wheeler to this point must be revisited so Wheeler’s own record and dirty dealings can be scrutinized.”

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If Pruitt gets fired, the EPA is stuck with this coal lobbyist

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Coal lobbyist on track to become a top dog at EPA

This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator, appeared poised and polished at his Senate confirmation hearing in November. He couched his objections to widely accepted climate science in ambiguous legalese, and kept his cool when, at the same hearing, Kathleen Hartnett White, the president’s pick for the Council on Environmental Quality, flamed out, stammering over questions of basic science.

On Saturday, the White House announced plans to pull Hartnett White’s nomination amid waning Republican support. But on Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11 to 10 along party lines to advance Wheeler’s nomination, putting him one step from the EPA’s No. 2 job.

The restraint that steeled Wheeler’s nomination seems likely to clear the way for his confirmation. Unlike other Trump nominees whose outrageous opinions or lack of qualifications put them on the political fringe, Wheeler boasts both the Beltway aesthetic and the experience needed to become a powerful EPA operator. His confirmation, critics fear, will speed the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental and public health protections, and make a lasting, if quieter, impact.

“It’s very alarming and distressing,” Mary Anne Hitt, a campaign director at the Sierra Club, told HuffPost. “He is right up there with the list of the most extreme people that Trump has nominated for any agency.”

Wheeler, a coal lobbyist and former legislative aide to Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, is widely seen as having the relationships and finesse needed to avoid legal potholes while driving the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. He knows how to work the system from within, having spent four years working at the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He said the right things to woo critics at his confirmation hearing, calling EPA staffers “the most dedicated and hard-working employees in the federal government.”

“The mission of the EPA to protect human health and the environment is critical to our country and its citizens and something that I take very seriously and I know you do, too,” Wheeler said.

The EPA did not respond to HuffPost’s request to interview Wheeler, and directed questions about his nomination to the Senate committee. Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm where Wheeler currently works, directed HuffPost to the EPA.

“Andrew will bring extraordinary credentials to EPA that will greatly assist the Agency as we work to implement our agenda,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said when Wheeler was nominated in October. “He has spent his entire career working to improve environmental outcomes for Americans across the country and understands the importance of providing regularity and certainty for our country.”

Wheeler won approval from the Senate panel last year, but his nomination never came to the full chamber for a final confirmation vote. His nomination was returned to the committee as a matter of procedure when the new legislative session began last month.

If Wheeler has anything stacked against him, it could be a 2016 Facebook post he wrote calling Trump a “bully” who “hasn’t been that successful” in business and who “has more baggage then all the other Republican candidates combined.” The remarks, surfaced in October by The Washington Post, gained new relevance this month after reporters unearthed two 2016 radio interviews in which Pruitt called Trump a “bully” and an “empty vessel” on “the Constitution and rule of law.”

On Wednesday morning, The Intercept published a report detailing fundraisers Wheeler held for Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, and Inhofe in May. The Sierra Club called on the Senate panel to delay the vote and open an investigation.

But that didn’t deter Republicans, who held the vote on schedule, even as many federal employees delayed morning activities by two hours because of snow.

“He’ll do a good job and I’m glad he’s going to be confirmed,” Inhofe said after Wednesday’s vote.

Wheeler is likely to be confirmed in the full Senate, where the GOP holds a narrow majority. No Republicans publicly oppose him, and Democrats senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — who generally vote with the GOP on fossil fuel issues — are likely to vote for Wheeler. Neither senator responded to requests for comment on Monday.

To boot, Democrats have already spent political capital to upend more egregious environmental nominations. Those include Hartnett White — who credited coal with abolishing slavery and suggested increased carbon dioxide emissions were good for the planet — and Michael Dourson, whose consultancy was described in 2014 by InsideClimate News as the “one-stop science shop” favored by the chemical and tobacco industries seeking affirmative research. Pruitt picked Dourson to lead the EPA’s chemical safety division, but withdrew the nomination in December after two Republican senators said they would not vote for him.

Democrats seem more at ease with Wheeler’s nomination. No Democrat raised concerns about Wheeler last week during Pruitt’s first Senate hearing since taking office, though no Democrat voted for Wheeler on Wednesday.

The choice of Wheeler is itself a naked gift to the coal industry, which has yielded outsized influence over the Trump White House. Wheeler lobbied on behalf of coal mining giant Murray Energy as recently as last year, disclosure filings show.

“This is the swamp,” Senator Jeff Merkley said at Wednesday’s hearing. “This does not serve the American people. And we should reject this nomination.”

The company’s bombastic chief executive, Bob Murray, has already played a major role in shaping Trump administration energy and environmental policies. Last month, Murray’s so-called “action plan,” became public. The proposals include a federal bailout of coal-fired plants, repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and reopening of the 2009 EPA “endangerment finding” that determined carbon dioxide pollution poses a risk to public health.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in a break with the White House, rejected the bailout plan. Pruitt announced his repeal of the Clean Power Plan, a suite of rules to reduce emissions from power plants, in October. But the administration’s decision on the so-called endangerment finding is up in the air. Despite calls from ardent climate-change deniers to reopen the finding, overturning the conclusion would require disproving the science behind human-caused climate change in court — an extremely unlikely prospect. Pruitt said last week that he had not yet decided whether to challenge the finding.

Wheeler could be the man to lead that assault. In October, Pruitt railed against the endangerment finding for citing the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In what appeared to be a dog whistle to nationalists, he claimed the endangerment finding “represents, and this is the first time in history this has ever occurred, this agency took work product of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and adopted it, transferred it to this agency and used that as the basis, underpinnings, of the endangerment finding.”

In reality, the technical support document on the endangerment finding references more than 100 published scientific studies and cites peer-reviewed syntheses of climate research by the White House’s Global Change Research Program, the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the U.N.’s IPCC.

But the criticism echoes Wheeler’s own suggestions. In March 2010, he accused the IPCC of blurring “the lines between science and advocacy” and functioning “more as a political body than a scientific body.” He suggested the EPA could “reconsider its endangerment finding without almost exclusively relying upon the IPCC,” according to remarks posted to his website.

“I believe that man has an impact on the climate, but what’s not completely understood is what the impact is,” Wheeler said at his confirmation hearing when aggressively questioned about the findings of the federal government’s latest climate report.

Wheeler’s Senate career gives pause to environmentalists, too. Inhofe, who serves on the Senate panel voting on his nomination, is one of the most ardent climate-change deniers in Congress. In 2015, the Oklahoma Republican brought a snowball to the Senate floor in a comically flamboyant attempt to prove climate change is a hoax. Inhofe is a close ally of Pruitt, who is said to be considering a bid for his seat when the 83-year-old senator retires. Pruitt’s ambitions raise the prospect that Wheeler could, as The New Republic pointed out, become the next EPA administrator.

“Andrew Wheeler’s nomination is very much in keeping with the Trump administration’s agenda of fossil fuel exploitation and climate inaction,” Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University and coauthor of a book on climate change denialism, told HuffPost. “The environmental community’s celebration of the failed nomination of climate-change denier Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality may be short-lived.”

Taken from: 

Coal lobbyist on track to become a top dog at EPA

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The FCC Just Approved Net Neutrality

Mother Jones

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to categorize the internet as a public utility and thereby uphold strong net neutrality regulations.

Advocates applauded the passage as a victory for internet consumers, blocking what had been described as the creation of internet “fast lanes” for companies willing to pay more for high-speed service.

The vote came down to a 3-2 margin, with dissents from Republicans Michael O’Reilly and Ajut Pai.

“The action that we take today is an irrefutable reflection of the principle that no one, whether government or corporate, should control free open access to the internet,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said prior to the vote.

“The internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules,” he added.

In recent months, net neutrality has emerged as a divisive political issue, with fierce opposition against regulations coming from Republicans and broadband providers alike. President Obama’s announcement back in November fully supporting net neutrality’s preservation prompted members of the GOP to denounce the potential move.

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The FCC Just Approved Net Neutrality

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Jason Chaffetz Opens Up Dumbest Investigation of Obama Yet

Mother Jones

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I understand why net neutrality is a big deal for internet service providers, who oppose any new rules that restrict what they can do and how much they can charge. Ditto for content companies like Google, who support net neutrality because they don’t want to be extorted by ISPs for access to high-speed pipes. Ditto again for activists who believe internet access should be on a level playing field for everyone.

But it’s also become a bête noire of the tea party crowd, and it’s a lot less clear to me why these folks care. But maybe I’m overthinking it. Perhaps they oppose net neutrality simply because President Obama supports it. Here’s the latest evidence on this score:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has written to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler asking for all documents related to communications and meetings involving White House and agency officials concerning the issue….Republicans have charged that Obama unduly influenced Wheeler’s proposal. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wheeler “succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself.”

….Chaffetz said in a letter dated Friday that he was investigating reports indicating “views expressed by the White House potentially had an improper influence” on development of Wheeler’s proposal. He cited a Wall Street Journal article last week that reported that two White House aides led a “secretive effort” to build support from outside groups for tough net-neutrality regulations.

Chaffetz must really be desperate. Does he seriously think that the president of the United States isn’t allowed to try to mobilize outside support for his policy proposals? Or even that the White House isn’t allowed to lobby FCC commissioners? That’s just crackers.

But Chaffetz is a certified up-and-comer in the Republican ranks, and I guess that means he has to make sure his tea party bona fides never get rusty from disuse. This time, though, he’s really digging through the bottom of the barrel. Unless he wants to join up with the crazytown contingent for good—something he’s managed to avoid so far—he should think twice about dumb theatrics like this. He’s better off when he keeps at least one foot planted in realityville.

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Jason Chaffetz Opens Up Dumbest Investigation of Obama Yet

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Net Neutrality Drifts Ever Closer to Oblivion

Mother Jones

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In the wake of a circuit court ruling that the FCC doesn’t have the authority to mandate net neutrality, Brian Fung reports on the likely next step from federal regulators:

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler appears to be leaning increasingly toward using the FCC’s existing legal authority to regulate broadband providers. Industry watchers say this approach would likely turn on a part of the Communications Act known as Section 706, which gives the FCC authority to promote broadband deployment.

….Over the past week, some insiders, including industry representatives and public advocates, have said that Section 706 actually gives the FCC much more power than we thought….While the agency can’t lay down a blanket rule prohibiting ISPs from abusing their power, it could go after offending companies on a case-by-case basis. This is exactly what Wheeler has in mind.

“We are not reticent to say, ‘Excuse me, that’s anti-competitive. Excuse me, that’s self dealing. Excuse me, this is consumer abuse,'” said Wheeler on Tuesday. “I’m not smart enough to know what comes next in innovation. But I do think we are capable of saying, ‘That’s not right.’ And there’s no hesitation to do that.”

So long as the FCC can argue that a company is hindering the rollout of broadband or broadband competition (a pretty vague definition), the agency may be able to regulate ISPs, content intermediaries, and possibly Web services like Google and Netflix themselves.

Hmmm. Maybe Wheeler has no hesitation to do that, but this basically puts net neutrality at the whim of the president. All it takes is a few FCC members who think net neutrality is a crock, and enforcement would end instantly. This is a pretty thin reed for supporters of net neutrality.

Excerpt from – 

Net Neutrality Drifts Ever Closer to Oblivion

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