Wheeler's Chance for a Course Correction at EPA

Matt Shudtz

Aug. 1, 2018

Andrew Wheeler will be on the hot seat today when he heads to Capitol Hill for his first appearance before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as Acting Administrator of the EPA. Senators initially scheduled the hearing when Scott Pruitt was Administrator and his ethical problems had reached such epic proportions that his party's support was starting to erode.

With Pruitt out and Wheeler in, today's hearing has the potential to be more about environmental policy than conflicts of interest and failures of management – a welcome change. We will be following closely to see if Andrew Wheeler will be as committed to these four retrograde policies as Scott Pruitt was:

The one-two punch of Pruitt's proposals to censor science and warp environmental economics. It is no wonder morale at EPA plummeted. There was a time when a person could make a career at EPA by building an evidence base for public safeguards using all the best science and economics available. But then Scott Pruitt came to town with his comically competitive approach to scientific debate (see "red team / blue team exercise") and a pair of regulatory proposals that would force agency staff to exclude all sorts of evidence that have been used to shape sound public policy for decades. Independent researchers, scientific societies, academics, public interest organizations, health experts, former agency staff, and businesses have criticized the proposals. (CPR's Member Scholars and staff have produced useful analyses of the cost-benefit and science proposals.) Both proposals ought to be shelved, and Andrew Wheeler has the authority and opportunity to do so.

Budget proposals that undermine collaborative programs to save our "Great Waters." Late last week, EPA published a highly anticipated assessment of progress toward restoring our country's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. (Check out the CPR infographic summary here.) Thanks in part to a 2010 pact between six Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay is inundated with less nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution that causes algae blooms and dead zones. But the budget proposals the Trump administration has sent to Congress in recent years would have decimated funding for the program that helps keep the Bay restoration effort on track, as well as others covering the Great Lakes, Florida Everglades, Puget Sound, and more. Thankfully, Congress has seen the wisdom of maintaining funding for these programs. People from across the country depend on these "Great Waters" restoration programs because they lead to valuable protections for drinking water, recreation, and more. Andrew Wheeler does not have to tilt at windmills the way Scott Pruitt did.

TSCA implementation that undermines legislative progress. Among the most underappreciated consequences of Donald Trump eking out an electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton was the fact that the winner of that election would shape the future of toxic chemical regulation under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Congress's 2016 amendments to TSCA required EPA to develop new "framework" rules governing how the agency would prioritize toxicological reviews of hazardous chemicals that are already on the market, as well as the methods the agency would use for reviewing evidence and making conclusions about the need for more protective safeguards. Put simply, it shocked the conscience that Americans are still dying from acute poisoning or diseases linked to chemicals such as methylene chloride, trichloroethylene (TCE), and asbestos. So Congress demanded action. But with a stalwart supporter of the chemical industry in charge of writing the new framework rules, the general public and vulnerable groups in particular are unlikely to get the protections they need. Andrew Wheeler has an opportunity to change course immediately.

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