It’s official: former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler has been confirmed by the Senate as new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. As the acting administrator since July 2018, Wheeler has made move after move to (at best) undermine or (at worst) openly attack rules that protect our health, our environment, and our climate.
This can’t be overstated: Under both Wheeler and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, EPA has been heading the wrong way. Here are three ways the agency has been undermining its own mission and one way you can take action and make your voice heard today.
Failing to Protect the Air We Breathe
According to EPA, “the average person takes between 17,280 and 23,040 breaths a day.” That means, on the upper end, we take more than 8 million breaths a year. It’s obvious: That air should be clean and healthy. But the agency is tearing down standards that do just that.
Weakening Cleaner Cars Standards: Less efficient cars are dirtier cars — dumping more and more pollution into the air we breathe. Cutting these standards means families spending more and more of their paycheck at the pump just to get to work, take their kids to school, or live their lives. On the other hand, clean car standards help keep our air clean, fight climate change, and save us money at the pump.
But EPA (and its fossil fuel friends) has made bold moves to weaken these common-sense standards. Just as bad, the agency is also working to stop states from California to Colorado from setting their own ambitious standards for cleaner cars and electric vehicles.
Slashing Mercury and Air Toxics Standards: Do you want your family breathing arsenic or lead? What about mercury or toxins from coal-fired power plants? Of course not.
That’s why (back in 2011) EPA placed limits on the amount of toxins like these power plants can emit. In fact, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, “coal-fired power plants were the largest source of these pollutants before Mercury and Air Toxics Standards went into effect.”
Despite the fact that these standards are fully-implemented and widely-supported, EPA is now moving to cut them at the expense of our air and our health.
Failing to Protect the Water We Drink
It’s not just our air that’s at risk. EPA has been working to eliminate the Clean Water Rule. This 2015 rule was designed to protect water around the country from pollution. That’s something we can all get behind, right?
But a new so-called “dirty water rule” abandons protection for wetlands and streams (which, of course, feed into our rivers and lakes). This would mean “millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams” would be left unprotected from contamination. That’s an open invitation for industry giants to dump all kinds of waste and chemicals into water – our water – threatening the health of families across the country. What could go wrong?
Before the Clean Water Rule was put in place, EPA’s own research showed that “one in three Americans [got] drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection from pollution without the Clean Water Rule.” Every person deserves safe, clean water. And EPA should be working to make that a reality — but instead, the agency is putting industry and polluters first.
Ignoring Climate Science
The science is clear: We have to think big and act quickly if we want to keep global warming at levels we can live with. But EPA certainly isn’t acting – and it doesn’t seem to be thinking at all. Since 2017, the agency has made move after move to rollback climate action. Here’s some of the worst examples:
- Trading the Clean Power Plan for a Dirty Power Scam: We can all agree our families should have clean air to breathe and a safe climate to live in. The Clean Power Plan was designed to do just that, making dirty power plants cut the dangerous emissions polluting our air and changing our climate. But Wheeler’s EPA has moved forward with a much weaker rule – one that, according to EPA’s own analysis, could lead to 1,400 premature deaths every year
- Supporting US Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement: In 2015, the world came together to agree on a breakthrough deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions and together limit global warming. But in 2017, with support from then-Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Trump Administration started the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement. That means the US is one of the only countries in the world not participating in the global effort to stop climate change.
- Deleting Vital Climate Change Information Across EPA.gov: In the spring of 2017, EPA erased the words “climate change” widely across its website. In fact, one group that “monitored changes to tens of thousands of web pages across federal agencies” found in late 2017 that “of all the government websites we’ve been monitoring, the EPA’s has been hit hardest.”
The group went on to tell the New York Times that “terms like ‘greenhouse gases,’ ‘carbon’ and ‘climate change’ have been replaced by vague descriptors like ‘sustainability’ and ‘emissions.’”
Heather Zichal, who was President Obama’s top White House adviser on energy and climate change, said it well: “In my experience, new administrations might come in and change the appearance of an agency website or the way they present information, but this is an unprecedented attempt to delete or bury credible scientific information they find politically inconvenient.”
Tell EPA: Deleting “Climate Change” Won’t Make the Crisis Disappear
EPA’s mission is to “protect human health and the environment” – and we need acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to live up to that solemn responsibility. And that, for one, means not hiding the truth about the climate crisis.
Seven out of 10 Americans know our climate is changing and want our government to act. We want to power our country with clean energy – not dirty fossil fuels. And we’re everywhere from rural Red State towns to big Blue State cities.
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