The EPA’s new acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, said Wednesday n a his first address to EPA staffers that he is “proud” of his work as a coal lobbyist — work which included selling the industry's wishlist of regulatory rollbacks to the Trump administration.
“I did work for a coal company and I’m not at all ashamed of the work that I did for the coal company,” Wheeler told the assembled group of EPA staff members and reporters. “The press — I think it’s been used by some people in a derogatory manner, but I’m actually proud of the work I did.”
In his address, Wheeler stressed his work on the Miners Protection Act, and noted his efforts to shore up pension plans and healthcare coverage for retired miners. But what he didn't mention was that work also included advocating for a 50 percent cut to the EPA staff, and pushing for a platform of environmental deregulation that the Trump administration has largely embraced.
Wheeler, who took over for the scandal-ridden Scott Pruitt as head of the agency on Monday, previously worked as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, one of the county’s largest coal companies. Murray was his biggest client, according to the Washington Post, and their investment in him paid off. In March of 2017, Wheeler scheduled and attended a meeting between his boss at the time, Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Photos of that meeting were leaked to In These Times last year, and Wheeler can be seen in the room.
It was in that meeting that Murray passed along a wishlist of regulatory rollbacks that would benefit the coal industry. Murray Energy also sent a second wishlist to Vice President Mike Pence just weeks after Trump’s inauguration, which was obtained by the New York Times. The document called for cutting staff at the EPA “at least in half” and for the agency to stop regulating greenhouse gases. It also called fewer mine safety inspections, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, and scrapping the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s major effort to limit greenhouse emissions.
It’s a wishlist that the Trump administration has acted on. The U.S. has already pulled out of the Paris agreement, the first and only international agreement on greenhouse gas pollution. And with hundreds of EPA employees leaving the agency, staffing levels are at the lowest they’ve been in thirty years. The EPA is also currently working to replace the Clean Power Plan.
As for miners' safety: Congress last year did pass legislation last year to guarantee healthcare benefits for miners. Their pension plans are still in jeopardy, though, as funds continue to dry up as more and more coal companies file for bankruptcy and disappear.
Still, miners are appreciative of the work Wheeler and Murray Energy did to try secure their benefits. “As a union, we’re used to talking to Democrats,” Phil Smith, a spokesperson for the United Mine Workers of America told VICE News. “We needed them to talk to Republicans, and they did that. They were active and they were helpful.”
Cover image: Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.