US Senate Confirms Former Coal Lobbyist To Protect Nation's Water

WASHINGTON, DC, United States

The United States Senate has confirmed Donald Trump nominee and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to be the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), which has oversight of the nation’s water resources. The confirmation formalized a role Wheeler has held in an acting capacity since July 2018 after the resignation of predecessor Scott Pruitt resigned amid multiple ethics inquiries.

The February 28 Senate vote, 52-47, went mostly along party lines, reflecting partisan divisions and concerns over the Trump administration’s attempts to weaken and repeal environmental regulations.

Wheeler has already been criticized for the agency’s failure to fully tackle regulation of toxic PFAS chemicals which have been found to contaminate the drinking water of millions of US citizens. USEPA is also continuing efforts to relax rules on coal ash, which can contaminate waterways with harmful chemicals.

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as perfluorinated chemicals, are a class of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s to make commercial and industrial products that resist heat, stains, grease and water, non-stick cookware products and, notably, fire-fighting foams. The best-known PFAS chemicals are PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont’s Teflon, and PFOS, formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard. Both were phased out under pressure from the USEPA after revelations about their hazards and alleged manufacturer cover-ups of damning health studies.

Trump Administration And Protection Of Water Resources

It was reported earlier in February that a new United States “Presidential Committee on Climate Security” has been convened to undertake an "adversarial" review of climate science to determine if research has overstated the risks posed by global warming according to a White House memorandum leaked this week. The group will be run by William Happer, a prominent opponent of climate science in the climate-change-denying administration of the country’s President Donald Trump.

Happer’s new role has echoes of this month’s appointment by the administration of David Dunlap, a former executive of Koch Industries to manage Dunlap, who was appointed October 2018 as a deputy in USEPA having spent the previous eight years as Koch Industries’ lead expert on water and chemical regulations, a position that typically includes helping companies to limit regulatory restrictions and liability for cleanups. He is now the top political official in the USEPA’s research office. Koch subsidiary Georgia-Pacific has used PFAS in some of its products and is facing at least one class-action lawsuit related to contamination from the chemicals, raising conflict-of-interest concerns.

“When Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, installs a former Koch executive to clean up toxic chemicals in drinking water, the chances of it happening are about as likely as snowfall in San Diego,” said US NGO “Environmental Working Group” (EWG) Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Scott Faber said earlier this year. “We hope both Wheeler and Dunlap will follow EPA’s mission statement instead of the demands of the chemical industry and adopt a health-protective drinking water standard that will reduce PFAS in the drinking water serving millions of people”.