Acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheelerdownplayed the threat of climate change and defended his deregulatory record at the first Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to officially run the agency Wednesday. It was a hearing that some activists and Democrats did not even think should take place, given that business as usual at the EPA has been hampered by the ongoing government shutdown.
“I do not believe that giving the acting administrator a speedy promotion is more urgent and more important than protecting the public from contamination to our air and water and lands,” Delaware Senator Thomas R. Carper, the leading Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said, as The Washington Post reported.
Demonstrators also interrupted the hearing when Wheeler began speaking, with one shouting, “Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA!”
Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pressed Wheeler on the urgency of climate action. Referencing the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that says humans have 12 years to transition away from fossil fuels in order to stave off dangerous climate change, Sanders asked Wheeler if he agreed with the scientific consensus that climate change is “one of the great crises facing our planet.”
“I would not call it the greatest crisis, no sir,” Wheeler answered. “I consider it a huge issue that has to be addressed globally.”
You can watch the full exchange here:
“Andrew Wheeler today showed that he is nothing more than Scott Pruitt with a new coat of lead paint,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a press release. “Like Pruitt, he took every opportunity today to distort the truth to Senators about his record of trying to dismantle every clean air, clean water and climate safeguard he could get his hands on.”
Despite opposition, Wheeler is likely to be confirmed, The Washington Post reported.