Saturday, July 14, 2018

H. Sterling Burnett: US EPA - Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old


Administrator Scott Pruitt's resignation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) marked the end of a productive but tumultuous time at the agency, but when it comes to policy, the new acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is likely to stay the course.
However history judges Pruitt’s tenure at EPA, critics and supporters of Pruitt can agree EPA under Pruitt began a fundamental transformation of its operations. 

Ending sue-and-settle agreements; reshaping EPA’s science advisory committees to better reflect diversity of geography, experience, and points of view; reducing the chance of graft by halting those who make EPA research funding decisions from also receiving funding for their research; beginning to roll back myriad regulatory actions, including the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, the massive increase in the Corporate Fuel Economy Standard (CAFE), and various energy efficiency mandates for appliances, EPA began changing the way it did business.
Based on the media coverage of EPA’s changing of the guard, critics and supporters of President Donald Trump’s energy and environment agenda alike agree substantively nothing much will change with Wheeler’s ascension to head the agency. In the immortal words of The Who, “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.”
Trump expressed confidence in Wheeler’s ability to keep the agency carrying out his agenda, tweeting on July 5, “I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”
Sadly, but entirely predictably, the environmental left took Wheeler’s rise as another opportunity to declare the end of the world. A Huffington Postheadline succinctly stated radical environmentalists’ point of view: “Scott Pruitt’s Replacement Is Even Worse.” The article quotes Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, saying, “This is like rearranging deck chairs on the environmental Titanic.”
The left’s histrionic response to Wheeler taking over at EPA is a mirror image of its response to Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court: regardless of qualifications, anyone who helms EPA under Trump will be tarred by the left as a friend of polluters and destroyer of environmental policies that are the only thing keeping our children from dying of air and water pollution and climate disaster.
Former Congressman Tim Huelskamp, Ph.D., president of The Heartland Institute, said Wheeler will be effective in accomplishing EPA’s mission despite environmentalists’ attacks.
“With his resume of commitment to the cause of commonsense policymaking, Andrew Wheeler is an excellent choice to run the EPA, and we are excited to work with him,” said Huelskamp. “Just like the extremist Left had it out for Scott Pruitt before he was even sworn in, they have targeted Wheeler as well. However, we doubt these personal attacks will deter Wheeler from his noble goal to focus the EPA on its core mission of helping to keep America’s air, land, and water clean of pollution.”
Environmentalists fear Wheeler for the same reason supporters of Trump’s regulatory reform efforts welcome him: he is expected to be much more effective than Pruitt at rolling back regulations imposed under previous administrations that go beyond what federal law allows and ultimately harm American businesses and workers.
Why more effective? Because of Wheeler’s experience and style. Wheeler has a great deal of experience working with EPA, both within and outside of the agency. Wheeler won awards for his work at the agency between 1991 and 1995. Subsequently, Wheeler worked alternately as majority staff director, minority staff director, and chief counsel at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, with oversight responsibility for EPA. As a result, Wheeler, unlike Pruitt, knows intimately which levers to push within the agency and in Congress to succeed at reining in EPA overreach, which is vital because Wheeler has a lot left to accomplish.
Along with myriad new regulatory reviews and actions EPA is expected to undertake under legislative or court deadlines, EPA is still working on replacements for CPP, WOTUS, and CAFE rules; to improve the transparency and public accessibility of the science used to guide agency decisions and rules; and to establish new nationwide pollution limits for drinking water and groundwater — all efforts started under Pruitt.
In public statements, supporters and detractors alike have indicated Wheeler could serve as a more disciplined, less scandal-prone replacement for Pruitt.
“We have full confidence in Andrew both from his past experience and the job he has done at EPA,” Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Examiner. “We think he will carry on the Trump reform agenda in a really competent way. He is on board with all the major reform efforts.”
“For the top people at the EPA, the various Pruitt accusations have been a real challenge and a distraction,” Ebell continued. “Once Pruitt is gone, and Andrew is in charge, people will get back to doing their jobs every day, rather than accusations.”
“With Andy Wheeler stepping in to replace Pruitt, I think we’ll see a change in style but not in substance,” Jeff Holmstead, a former deputy administrator of the EPA in the George W. Bush administration, told the Washington Examiner. “Andy probably is the ideal person to lead EPA at this point.
“Pruitt got a lot of regulatory reforms started, but he’s never worked at a regulatory agency and didn’t fully understand the administrative process and what it would take to get them finalized. Andy certainly does,” Holmstead said. “He’s worked on these issues for years and may actually be more effective than Pruitt when it comes to carrying out the reforms that Pruitt started.”
Clean Air Watch’s O’Donnell, a fierce critic of Wheeler, agrees his personality may make Wheeler more effective.
“This is a guy who shares all the ideology of Pruitt, except his style is totally different,” Huffington Post quotes O’Donnell as saying. “He’s not a flamboyant, backslapping politician with a taste for scandal.”
We can’t yet be certain what Wheeler’s tenure might mean for EPA’s climate policy. Driven by the endangerment finding, EPA has begun the process of drafting a replacement for CPP. Wheeler’s past statements give hope this effort won’t continue. In March of 2010, while working for the Senate, Wheeler “accused the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of blurring ‘the lines between science and advocacy’ and functioning ‘more as a political body than a scientific body,’ suggesting EPA could ‘reconsider its endangerment finding without almost exclusively relying upon the IPCC,’” the Huffington Postnotes.
Under the intense spotlight trained on any Trump administration official, it’s hard to do anything under the radar, but with his knowledge of the inner workings of EPA’s regulatory processes and his low-key, non-confrontational style, if anyone can successfully rescind the endangerment finding and save the American people from unnecessarily high energy prices and shortages, it may just be Andrew Wheeler.
Buona fortuna, Mr. Wheeler!

Dr H. Sterling Burnett is a Heartland Institute senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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