A former EPA official urges the new director to change the Trump administration's direction on key issues
After a year and a half of embarrassing scandals and ethical lapses, Scott Pruitt left the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July. His successor, acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, has an enormous amount of work and opportunity ahead of him if he intends to restore public trust in the agency. Unfortunately, two of Wheeler’s first decisions — to freeze fuel-economy standards for cars and to dramatically scale back an effort to reduce climate pollution from coal-fired power plants — veer badly in the wrong direction.
Before these new proposals become final, Wheeler should embrace the opportunity to increase air and climate protection, promote efficient and consistent regulation, and embrace individual states’ rights.
I served as the regional administrator for EPA Region 10 — the jurisdiction that includes the Pacific Northwest and Alaska — as a political appointee during the Obama administration. But I have worked collaboratively with both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades. One of the most successful projects of my career was a public-private partnership initiated with the EPA during the George W. Bush administration. My colleagues from the other side of the aisle and I made significant reductions in diesel emissions along the West Coast, Alaska and the Pacific islands by working with industry, nonprofit organizations and numerous levels of government. We put our political differences aside, and focused on the work of protecting public health and the environment.
I urge Wheeler to do the same.
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I urge him to rethink the actions that the Trump administration took in the recent weeks to scale back the nation’s fuel-efficiency standards and greenhouse-gas pollution standards. These proposals to roll back the previously negotiated standards are misguided on the science, while ignoring the long-term interests of automakers, the power sector and the American public.
Vehicle exhaust is a major source of local pollution — one that Democrats and Republicans have been tackling for decades. Auto and truck emissions have long been known to be the most significant source of smog forming air emissions and cancer-causing air toxins. Transportation has also become the largest source of global warming pollution in the U.S. The power sector follows closely behind. While local policy action is helpful, nothing has been more effective than ambitious national targets for reducing emissions. These goals encourage innovation and have already saved consumers billions of dollars in fuel costs while reducing pollution. There is no sensible reason to back away from the current standards.
Furthermore, EPA’s decision to rescind the waiver that California has historically used to set stronger auto-pollution standards is a not only a mistake but also illegal — and could become a dangerous precedent. California and a number of other states, including Washington and Oregon, have previously decided to opt into the California-emissions standards, which is clearly allowed under the federal Clean Air Act. Time and time again municipalities and states have shown that if the federal government is unwilling to believe science and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, they will make these reductions locally.
It is also important to note that few really want these changes in policy. They are political exercises unpopular with the majority of Americans. Instead of delivering on these ideological priorities, Administrator Wheeler should be listening to and following the solid technical analysis of his talented staff. More than anything, utilities, automakers and auto suppliers need policy and regulatory certainty, which they most certainly had with the current rules being proposed for a rollback. In fact, the tailpipe standards were carefully negotiated between the EPA, automakers and the states following California standards, and the power-plant rules were put in place only after years of consultation with utilities, states and state utility commissioners.
I worked in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, in a set of four states with dramatically different political sensibilities. However, everyone who lives here wants air that’s safe to breathe, water that’s safe to drink and a stable climate. That has never been more evident than in recent months as we have seen climate-worsened wildfires bringing some of the worst air quality in the world to the Pacific Northwest.
I hope that Wheeler wants the same. I urge him to change course and do what’s right for all of America.