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Senate Confirms Climate Realist, Reg. Reformer Wheeler as EPA Administrator

March 1, 2019

Climate Change Weekly #316

The U.S. Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a vote of 52 in favor and 47 opposed, with no Democrats voting to confirm, on February 28.

Since becoming acting administrator with the resignation of former administrator Scott Pruitt, Wheeler has continued President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit and revise regulations that unnecessarily hamper economic growth, energy production and use, and job creation, while maintaining the agency’s focus on environmental protection.

Even before Wheeler joined the Trump administration’s EPA, he had long experience with the agency. Wheeler twice earned the agency’s bronze medal when he worked in EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics in the early 1990s. Later, Wheeler worked in Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) congressional office. Inhofe chaired the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, which exercises oversight over EPA’s operations.

Not surprisingly, climate alarmists and the Senate Democrats beholden to them opposed Wheeler’s appointment out of fear that his significant experience working within and outside of the agency would make him even more effective than Pruitt at spotting and rolling back costly, unnecessary, and legally unjustified regulations.

During his confirmation hearings, Wheeler touted EPA’s deregulatory efforts under which the agency has rewritten or replaced a number of rules enacted under former President Obama, including EPA’s decision to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with the less onerous American Clean Energy rule, and the agency’s decision to rescind Obama-era fuel economy updates and timelines, instituting in their stead the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficiency rule.

Wheeler testified the 13 major deregulatory actions he had overseen during his period as EPA’s acting administrator had saved Americans “roughly $1.8 billion in regulatory costs.”

Responding to his confirmation, Wheeler tweeted, “It is truly humbling to serve the American public as EPA Administrator. I want to thank President Trump for nominating me and Leader McConnell and [Senate Natural Resources Committee] Chairman [John] Barrasso [R-WY] for navigating my confirmation through the Senate," Wheeler wrote. “I am deeply honored, and I look forward to continuing the President’s agenda and the work of the Agency alongside all my EPA colleagues.”

Barrasso favorably compared Wheeler’s regulatory reform efforts to the EPA’s actions under Obama.

“During the last administration, the EPA issued punishing regulations that would hurt the economy and raise costs on families,” said Barrasso in a statement. “Under Acting Administrator Wheeler’s leadership, the EPA has taken a different approach. The agency is now putting forward proposals that both protect our environment and allow the country’s economy to flourish.”

Every Democrat voted against Wheeler, with many labeling him a climate blackguard. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote against confirmation.

“[Wheeler’s nomination] goes right to the heart of whether or not we are going to respond to the magnitude of this [climate] challenge,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in a speech from the Senate floor during the debate over Wheeler’s nomination, held before the final vote. “I don’t know how anyone can vote for Andrew Wheeler given the science that’s in front of us.

“This is just doubling down on a disaster,” Markey continued. “Andrew Wheeler is going to be the architect of the Republican plan to make sure we don’t do anything on this climate catastrophe.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) focused his critique of Wheeler on the administrator’s decision so far not to encourage Trump to support the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

In 2017, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act by requiring companies to replace hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with other substances in an effort to fight climate change. EPA enacted the HFC ban as an integral part of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat climate change.

The 1990 amendments to the 1973 Clean Air Act required manufacturers to replace ozone-depleting substances with substances that are not ozone-depleting, but “the fundamental problem for EPA is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances,” the court ruled. “EPA’s well-intentioned policy objectives with respect to climate change do not on their own authorize the agency to regulate.”

“Under the Constitution, congressional inaction does not license an agency to take matters into its own hands, even to solve a pressing policy issue such as climate change,” said the Court.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol would add refrigerants that are greenhouse gases, even if they don’t harm the ozone layer, to the list of chemicals banned under the Montreal Protocol. Carper complained on the Senate floor the amendment has broad industry and Republican support, and Wheeler has not urged the White House to submit it to the Senate for ratification.

“It’s crazy,” Carper said.

Carper also said Wheeler’s support for EPA’s rollback of Obama-era greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles showed he was unfit to serve as EPA administrator. Finding any compromise with California unacceptable, EPA under Wheeler is pushing ahead with efforts to strip California and other states of their power to set separate, higher, automobile emission standards.

In the end, if you believe the federal government has limited, explicitly delegated powers under the Constitution, and that EPA has strayed well beyond those bounds, Andrew Wheeler is the right man at the right time for the job as EPA administrator.

Congratulations, Mr. Wheeler. Stay the course, and keep up the good work!

  • H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: The Hill; Inside EPA; Environment & Climate News; Environment & Climate News; Coalition Letter; Climate Change Weekly


IN THIS ISSUE …

Europe putting U.S. trade before climate concernsVirginia could go down dark climate path


EUROPE PUTTING U.S. TRADE BEFORE CLIMATE CONCERNS

Despite the European Union (EU) saying just eight months ago it would not sign any trade agreements with countries not party to the Paris climate treaty—a pledge aimed particularly at the United States after President Donald Trump started the process of withdrawing from the agreement—it seems the EU has reconsidered its stance. Climate Home News is reporting the EU is in the process of negotiating two trade agreements with the United States.

With U.S. tariffs on European steel, cars, and other goods looming, evidently the EU fears economic losses from a trade war with the United States more than the possible harms from climate change, as the European Parliament’s Committee for International Trade (CIT) endorsed opening talks on two trade agreements with the United States without any Paris treaty preconditions.

CIT’s decision flies in the face of a July 2018 European Parliament nonbinding resolution to “make ratification and implementation of the Paris Agreement a condition for future trade agreements.” Although recent trade deals with Japan and Mexico included references to the Paris climate agreement, CIT voted 21-17 to proceed to negotiate trade deals with the United States without any references to participation in the Paris climate agreement.

In doing so, CIT rejected a resolution of its own Chairman, Bernd Lang, to reject trade talks with the United States, in which Lang expressed “deep regret” over “the withdrawal of the US from the ‘Paris Agreement.’” In order not to appear to be abandoning its principles, CIT’s resolution indicates fealty to the Paris climate agreement is only a precondition for comprehensive trade talks, but since it is only moving forward with more limited trade deals, not a comprehensive free trade agreement, its decision does not violate the European Parliament’s resolution.

“[The] recommendations refer to a limited agreement and not a comprehensive free trade agreement; therefore [CIT] considers that those agreements should represent an exception dictated by specific circumstances and in any case not a precedent for the European Union in future negotiations,” said the resolution CIT adopted.

Despite calls by environmental lobbyists for the French government to fight the EU’s decision, Pierre Chabrol, director of trade policy in France’s Department of Treasury, told Climate Home News the agreement does not violate French President Emmanuel Macron’s call to “weaponize trade in defense of the Paris Agreement.”

As Climate Home News reported, Chabrol said that “Macron’s commitments only applied to large trade deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). ‘The reach of these two [trade] mandates is more restrained and the situation is different.’”

SOURCES: Climate Home News


VIRGINIA COULD GO DOWN DARK CLIMATE PATH

Virginia’s controversy-ridden Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is itching for the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative agreement among 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states mandating utilities cut greenhouse gas emissions and setting up a cap-and-trade program to meet emission reduction goals. At Northam’s behest, Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board (APCB) is finishing work on regulations to establish a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program to allow Virginia to participate actively in RGGI.

Northam supports Virginia’s participation in RGGI even though participating states have some of the highest electric power rates in the nation, due in no small part to those states forcing their electric utilities to reduce or limit their use of fossil fuels to generate electric power since they adopted RGGI. Coal and natural gas remain the least expensive sources of electricity.

In an effort to thwart Northam’s push for RGGI membership, Republicans, who hold a narrow, two-vote margin in both Virginia’s Senate and its House of Delegates, passed two bills to prevent the Old Dominion state from joining RGGI without a vote of the legislature.

VA’s legislature has been down this path before, having twice passed similar bills which the governor vetoed. His veto was sustained.

APCB’s draft RGGI regulations would require the state’s utilities to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to 28 million tons by 2020. Absent the regulations, power plant emissions in Virginia were expected to be approximately 37 million tons in 2019. This target amounts to an approximately 25 percent cut in emissions in a single year. The cap then shrinks by 3 percent each year, or about 840,000 tons per year, through 2040, at which point the state’s utilities will be allowed to emit no more than 11 million tons of carbon dioxide.

The bad news: these steep emission cuts carry a high price tag. The State Corporation Commission has estimated Dominion Energy’s customers alone will pay $3 billion to $6 billion more for electricity over the program’s first 10 years of operation.

Interested parties in Virginia have until March 6 to comment on APCB’s latest version of the state’s proposed RGGI regulation.

SOURCE: Jefferson Policy Journal 

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org