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The Face of the EPA, Post-Pruitt

In the face of 13 current federal inquiries and sustained public activism, Scott Pruitt has resigned as director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

During his time in office, Pruitt made an astonishing number of questionable decisions. His continuing service, as the controversies continued to accumulate, were redefining the idea of how much scandal a cabinet-level official could endure. His resignation, delayed as it was, is rightly being celebrated. However, fans of clean air and water should know that many more challenges await.

Now that Pruitt is out the EPA’s acting administrator is now Andrew Wheeler.

Wheeler’s background could hardly be less inspiring. Until last year he worked as the top lobbyist for Murray Energy, the largest underground coal mining company in the country. The company’s CEO is a top Trump backer, having donated $300,000 to the president’s inaugural fund. Months later, the company provided the Trump administration with an “Action Plan” that called for, among other things, cutting the staff at the EPA in half and subsidizing coal plants. Four days after that memo was authored, Murray Energy gave $1 million to a Trump tied Super PAC.

Prior to that, Andrew Wheeler worked as a top aide to Sen. James Inhofe. Inhofe is perhaps the most infamous climate change denier in Congress, after memorably using the presence of snow in February in Washington, D.C. as evidence against global warming. He previously chaired the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Wheeler first appeared on Public Citizen’s radar two decades ago, while working as counsel for that same committee:

Wheeler also received a junket [paid for by a nuclear lobbying association] to New Orleans for the purpose of touring the Waterford nuclear power plant. His stay just happened to coincide with the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, where he stayed at the four-star Westin Canal Place Hotel in the French Quarter, offering a heated rooftop pool, complete health club facilities and a marble bath.

Even if Wheeler is eventually replaced, it seems unlikely that any potential Trump nominee will do their all to uphold the EPA’s mission “to protect human health and the environment.” Prior to Pruitt being selected, one of the front runners for the job was Kathleen Hartnett White, who once wrote that “carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant.” Another candidate was the head of Trump’s EPA transition team, Myron Ebell. Ebell previously derided Newt Gingrich as having “soft feelings for cuddly little critters.”

But, all is not lost. The EPA was founded in a bipartisan fashion and there is clear public support for stronger environmental regulations. For example, a recent poll found supporters of a solar panel mandate for new houses outnumbered opponents by almost three to one.  Call your senator to demand that no one be picked to lead the EPA unless he or she can demonstrate a commitment to protecting EPA’s mission — our health, and our environment.

Image courtesy Karen Murphy/CC BY-ND 2.0