Udall Urges Republican Leadership to Press ‘Pause’ on EPA Deputy Nominee and Former Big Coal Lobbyist Andrew Wheeler
Udall: Wheeler - a longtime lobbyist for big coal - should be fully vetted because of his potential conflicts of interest and because he could take over for Pruitt
WASHINGTON – Today, as Republicans rushed to confirm the former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to serve as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Senator Tom Udall took to the Senate floor as part of an effort to urge GOP and Senate leaders to halt Wheeler’s nomination and fully vet him before he is installed at the EPA. A final vote on Wheeler is expected later this afternoon.
Republican leadership has pushed Wheeler’s nomination forward without requiring him to answer in-depth questions about his background as a lobbyist for the coal giant Murray Energy and other positions on the health and safety mission of the EPA. Udall argued that Wheeler is unsuitable for the EPA because he has been a climate denier who has lobbied for an industry that stands to benefit from his position. But Udall is even more concerned about advancing Wheeler’s nomination now because he would be next in line to lead the EPA if Scott Pruitt resigned or was fired. Pruitt’s future at the agency is in serious doubt because of numerous credible allegations about whether he violated ethics rules, misspent agency funds on himself, and abused his office.
Yesterday, Udall led a press conference with several senators to draw attention to Pruitt’s ethical lapses. Video of the press conference is available HERE. Udall is planning to introduce a Sense of the Senate resolution calling on Pruitt to resign.
That makes it even more important that the Senate vet Wheeler now as if he were taking over for Pruitt, Udall said on the Senate floor. “Mr. Pruitt should not be replaced by someone who does not support the basic mission of the agency -- to protect the environment and public health. Certainly not without being fully vetted. It’s too dangerous …. Just like Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Wheeler has spent his entire political career fighting EPA regulations that protect the environment and public health. He has lobbied for many years on behalf of the polluters the EPA regulates.”
“The American people … want clean air and clean water. They want the health of their children and our seniors protected. And it is our responsibility to make sure the EPA protects the American people,” Udall continued. “I urge my friends and colleagues on the other side of the aisle to do our jobs – to put the nomination of Andrew Wheeler on hold and to work together to demand that the president nominate a deputy administrator who will have the trust and confidence of the American people and work to keep their air and water clean and their families safe and healthy.”
Video of Udall’s speech is available HERE. The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery follows:
Mr. President. The Environmental Protection Agency is in crisis. Scott Pruitt has thrown the agency into turmoil by gutting its mission to protect public health and the environment and by violating ethics and the taxpayers’ trust. I believe Scott Pruitt must resign. Many of our colleagues have said the same. Even the president is questioning whether Mr. Pruitt should stay.
And that is exactly why I am concerned that the Senate is not giving the deputy administrator nominee the scrutiny he should have. Mr. President, Andrew Wheeler could become the EPA Administrator if Scott Pruitt is forced out or resigns. He should be vetted as if he were the nominee. And there are many reasons to question whether he belongs at the EPA at all.
Just like Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Wheeler has spent his entire political career fighting EPA regulations that protect the environment and public health. He has lobbied for many years on behalf of the polluters the EPA regulates.
The American people support clean air and clean water. Mr. Wheeler is out of step with the values and principles of American taxpayers.
I know many Republicans who support environmental protection. I call on them to press “pause” on Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to be deputy administrator of the EPA.
Let us join together, and demand that the president withdraw this nomination and nominate someone who supports the basic mission of the EPA – a person who respects science, and understands that climate change is here and now and must be addressed for the sake of our children and grandchildren. A person who is not hostile to environmental regulation in all forms. A person who is not beholden to special interests.
We are supposed to act as a check on the executive. So let’s do our job.
When Scott Pruitt came before the Senate for confirmation, I voted against him because I expected he would work to undermine environmental and public health protections. Mr. Pruitt has met -- and far exceeded -- my worst expectations.
He lobbied the president to leave the Paris agreement. The United States is now the only country in the world that is not a signatory.
Mr. Pruitt proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan – our nation’s best effort to attack climate change. It’s an important public health measure too: the EPA estimated that the Clean Power Plan could prevent 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.
He stopped a ban on chlorpyrifos – a dangerous neurotoxic pesticide that the EPA’s own scientists say should be off the market because it is linked to brain damage in young children.
He tried to suspend methane and smog regulations on oil and gas wells. He tried to roll back mercury pollution rules for power plants. And he wants to delay rules to protect against pesticide exposure and formaldehyde emissions. But Mr. Pruitt’s actions have not respected the rule of law -- and fortunately, they have been blocked by the courts.
Mr. Wheeler’s environmental record is not much better. It gives no confidence that he will put health and safety first.
Mr. Wheeler has called the Paris climate agreement a “sweetheart deal” for China.
He has fought limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
He is a long-time lobbyist for Murray Energy Corporation – one of the dirtiest coal companies in the country – which also has a terrible safety record. Murray Energy is the largest privately held coal company in the nation.
That raises big questions about conflicts of interest. The EPA is now moving to repeal the Clean Power Plan. It would be a big win for Big Coal – at the expense of the American people.
Mr. Wheeler opposed reducing poisonous mercury emissions from power plants – regulations that Scott Pruitt wants to gut. In fact, I don’t see anything in Mr. Wheeler’s background that indicates he will act as our nation’s top environmental protector.
When Mr. Pruitt was confirmed, we knew he had no problem bending ethics rules. His claim to fame in Oklahoma was currying favor with moneyed interests and doing their bidding.
But the number and extent of Administrator Pruitt’s ethical lapses might surprise even the most cynical.
The list of abuses grows daily:
- Lavish first class flights around the world,
- Swanky hotel stays,
- Billing the taxpayers for his personal trips home to Oklahoma,
- A $43,000 dollar soundproof phone booth in his office,
- Taking 30 EPA enforcement officers away from investigating polluters to serve as his round-the-clock personal security detail,
- Speeding down the streets of Washington with sirens and lights blaring to get to fancy restaurants,
- Huge, unauthorized salary raises for his friends,
- Allowing a close aide to just not come to work for three months -- while still getting paid by taxpayers,
- Detailing EPA staff to find him a place to live.
While he siphons hundreds of thousands of dollars off the taxpayers for special perks for himself, he tries to slash millions of dollars for health and safety programs for the American people.
Even his own staff has balked at his extravagances. And the administrator has met their resistance by retaliating against them, changing their duties, sidelining them.
Mr. Pruitt has treated the EPA like his own little personal fiefdom; and EPA employees like serfs who cater to his whims.
Former EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush, Christie Todd Whitman, recently called his spending “absolutely ridiculous.” She charged that his conduct is part of “an extraordinarily ethically tone deaf administration."
It is time for Scott Pruitt’s imperial tenure to end. It is time for him to resign. And it’s high time for the president to stop defending him and to demand his resignation.
But Mr. Pruitt should not be replaced by someone who does not support the basic mission of the agency: to protect the environment and public health. Certainly not without being fully vetted. It’s too dangerous.
The EPA’s first administrator, William Ruckelshaus – a Nixon appointee – has sounded warnings. “My principal concern,” he said, “is that Pruitt and the people he’s hired to work with him don’t fundamentally agree with the mission of the agency.”
The American people value that mission. They want clean air and clean water. They want the health of their children and our seniors protected.
And it is our responsibility to make sure the EPA protects the American people.
I urge my friends and colleagues on the other side of the aisle to do our jobs. To put the nomination of Andrew Wheeler on hold and to work together to demand that the president nominate a deputy administrator who will have the trust and confidence of the American people and work to keep their air and water clean and their families safe and healthy.
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