National Press Club

EPA Administrator Wheeler refutes 'consistent' media errors during Press Club Luncheon

June 4, 2019 | By Wesley G. Pippert | pippertw@missouri.edu

National Press Club Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak reads questions submitted by audience members to Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, at a June 3 luncheon.

National Press Club Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak reads questions submitted by audience members to Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, at a June 3 luncheon.

Photo/Image: Al Teich

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, laid out a broad array of what the Trump administration is doing for clean water and air, but also told the National Press Club Monday how he thinks some media consistently err in covering these things,

Wheeler, who was confirmed earlier this year as the EPA's 15th administrator, concluded his prepared remarks at a luncheon in the Holeman Lounge by listing five ways "some of the media are consistently wrong."

He cited:

  1. That "the environment is getting worse," a charge he sought to refute throughout his luncheon address.
  2. That Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist. He responded by saying he has represented "dozens" of nuclear, solar and energy companies, adding "I'm not talking to my former clients."
  3. The EPA is rolling back regulations. He said some regulations have not been rolled back and others have not been enforced yet "and we can't rollback" what has not been in place.
  4. The EPA meets with companies opposed to environmental protections. "How can we be effective if we never talk to people we regulate?" he asked in response.
  5. There is a "war" at the EPA between the career staff and political appointees. He said some EPA employees have been with the EPA throughout its 50-year history, and he himself began his career there in 1991, followed by stints on congressional staffs before becoming deputy EPA administrator in 2018.

Gallup polls since the early 2000s indicate the environment is getting worse, to which Wheeler said: "We need to fix this perception."

"The media does (sic) a disservice to the American public -- and sound policymaking -- by not informing the public of the progress this nation has made," Wheeler said.

In the 1970s, more than 40% of the nation's drinking water supply failed standards, now the figure is in the 90 percentile. In this same period, the United States has reduced the six main air pollutants 73%, Wheeler said, "and my duty now is to increase this decline."

On fuel-efficient vehicles, Wheeler said, the EPA wants to achieve multiple goals "by locking in emissions reductions and getting getting older vehicles off the road" -- claiming this would cut the cost of owning a new car by more than $2,300.

The EPA plans to announce later this week nearly $65 million in Brownsfield grants to help 149 communities across the country clean up radioactive contaminated properties, Wheeler said.

As for regulations, a constant target of the Trump administration, Wheeler said: "There is no disputing who benefits from complex, confusing regulations that can only be interpreted by high-paid lawyers and consultants. Small businesses cannot suffer these costs. So we are focused on providing regulatory certainty and clarity."

In answer to Club President Alison Fitzgerald Kodjack's question about climate change -- another contentious issue for the administration although he did not address it in his prepared remarks -- Wheeler said: "We take climate change seriously."