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New EPA head says he aims to implement Trump’s agenda ‘posthaste’

Andrew Wheeler, new head of the EPA.
Andrew Wheeler, new head of the EPA.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the Senate Wednesday he was working to implement President Donald Trump’s move to rollback environmental regulation “posthaste.”

“The combination of regulatory relief and the President’s historic tax cuts continues to spur economic growth across the country,” he said. “We have made historic progress at EPA since President Trump took office. But we have more work to do.”

Wheeler testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, his first appearance on Capitol Hill since taking over the agency following the resignation of Scott Pruitt.  And he was quickly asked how he would handle hot button issues like the ethanol mandate and vehicle efficiency standards.

 

Ethanol

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., asked Wheeler what the EPA planned to do to help corn farmers who are losing out under the administration’s decision to grant waivers to oil refineries from the requirement they blend ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply.

Wheeler acknowledged it was a problem, pointing out he had helped write the ethanol blending law while a staffer on the committee and wished, “we had taken more time on the details.”

“We’re working to see what we can do to make up the difference when we have to grant a waiver,” Wheeler said. “You have the problem the waivers are being requested and granted after the numbers have already been set.”

Rounds urged Wheeler to look into allowing the year round sale of fuel with a concentration of 15 percent ethanol – currently disallowed during the summer months.

“You’ve taken care of the smaller refineries” he said. “What about the small farmers?”

 

Vehicle Efficiency Standards

With the agency preparing to release new fuel efficiency standards, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., pointed out the largest source of U.S. air pollution is cars and trucks.

Wheeler described the document, to be released later this week, as a “proposal.” He said the agency was considering options ranging from keeping the standard at its current level to allowing it to increase through 2025 as ordered by former president Barack Obama.

Were the administration to keep efficiency standards at their current level, it would set off a legal fight with environmentalists and states like California, which has long set its own efficiency standards. Wheeler said would “welcome” a compromise, he also said such a deal must avoid making cars less safe, as the administration argues the standard set by Obama would.

“The proposal will save 1,000 lives per year and I think it’s important we maintain that,” Wheeler said.

 

Ethics violations?

Off the bat, Wheeler was asked by Sen. John Barraso, R-Wyo, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, about media reports he had met with former clients from his time working a Washington lobbyist, a potential violation of federal ethics rules.

The hearing comes as Wheeler seeks to resurrect the image of an agency that was at the center of controversy during the Trump administration. Pruitt resigned while the subject of multiple congressional ethics probes into actions that included renting an apartment from the wife of a prominent lobbyist and enlisting staff to help his wife find a job.

Wheeler said he had no meetings that violated ethics regulations, although he added that he gave speech during which a former client was in attendance.

“I can’t control the people who attend a public speech,” Wheeler said.

 

Transparency

In a memo this week, Wheeler ordered staff to make the agency more transparent to media, including making his own appointment calendar available online.

He reiterated that commitment to the Senate Wednesday, saying he was hiring more staff to handle the flood of public information requests the agency is handling. To close out his opening statement, Wheeler pledged to make the EPA “transparent, open and accountable.”

“Our success as an agency depends on it,” he testified.

This article first appeared on the Houston Chronicle – an Energy Voice content partner. For more from the Houston Chronicle click here.

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