National Harbor, MD - EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler was a popular guy at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. Having just been confirmed the day before, Townhall was one of several media outlets chasing him down for a quote on Friday on how he plans to steer the environmental agency.
He was the longest serving acting administrator in the agency's 49-year history in part because Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee were in no rush to replace Scott Pruitt. Others voiced concerns about the nominee's past work as a coal lobbyist. Yet, when it did finally come time to vote on Thursday, it was pretty painless. Wheeler was confirmed by a vote of 52-47. It was, he agreed, a sigh of relief, particularly after seeing so many of Trump's other cabinet nominees struggle through contentious confirmation processes.
Now, it's time to continue the work he's been assigned.
"When Trump asked me to take over the agency he told me to continue to clean up the air, continue to clean up the water, and continue to provide deregulatory relief in order to help create more jobs," Wheeler recalled. "He knows we can do all three and I know we can do all three."
Some of Wheeler's decisions have, not unexpectedly, upset progressives. For instance, his move to roll back President Obama's Clean Power Plan. Ask Wheeler, however, and he'll tell you it wasn't technically a rollback because the plan never saw the light of day. The plan, which was intended to address CO2 emissions from the electric power sector, was immediately stayed by the Supreme Court.
That's because Obama's plan "was outside the law," Wheeler explained. After some research, his team provided a new proposal, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which will reduce CO2 by 33 to 34 percent on a facility by facility basis. Best of all, he said, "it follows the law." In fact, CO2 emissions have been on an decline since 2005, he noted, thanks to "sensible regulations."
Wheeler said the administration is also sticking to its guns over last year's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords. It was "a bad deal" for the U.S., especially because it didn't demand as much from other countries. He notes, for instance, that the agreement didn't require CO2 reduction from China until 2030.
By the way, the U.S., as mentioned above, is already reducing CO2 to a degree that "we don't need the accord."
"It's completely ridiculous," Wheeler said.
Meanwhile, progressive lawmakers are introducing their own environmental proposals. Their latest offering however, the Green New Deal, is "really not ready for prime time," according to the EPA head.
He has "a lot of questions" about the proposal, particularly what it's going to do with the aviation industry, and with cows. Most of all, Wheeler was "struck that it did not value a reliable electric grid."
"The first thing we need to provide safe drinking water to the public is a reliable electric grid to provide electricity to provide a drinking water system," he urged.
It is, he said, a public health issue.
"I don't know how you can have a green new deal that discounts the importance of having reliable electricity."
We asked him to name the biggest threat to the environment. It was not climate change.
"Worldwide I believe the biggest threat is water," he answered. "The fact that we have a million people a year dying from the lack of potable water worldwide. I think that's a crisis."
As for climate change activists who insist we solve the problem, "you're talking about hypothetical deaths 50 or 100 years from now."
Wheeler said President Trump shares his concerns about water. Together, they are taking a look at aging water infrastructure across the country. The EPA administrator said he just returned from Baltimore, where they signed a new loan agreement with the city to help them with their aging infrastructure. The EPA signed eight of those in the past year and have 30 to 40 planned for the year ahead.