Wheeler defends climate record in Hill budget clash

By Corbin Hiar | 02/27/2020 01:12 PM EST

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Capitol Hill this morning.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Capitol Hill this morning. Francis Chung/E&E News

Despite weakening limits on planet-warming pollutants and proposing broad cuts to EPA’s remaining efforts to combat climate change, Administrator Andrew Wheeler this morning sought to defend the Trump administration’s climate record.

"There are essentially zero mentions of the words ‘climate change’ or ‘carbon dioxide’" in the president’s budget proposal, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said during an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. "The only broad instances we could find were in the section about eliminating programs."

EPA’s $6.7 billion fiscal 2021 plan would whack the agency’s funding by about 27%, or $2.4 billion. The proposal — which the Democratic-controlled House is all but certain to reject — would eliminate a variety of climate change-related efforts, including the popular Energy Star energy efficiency program (Greenwire, Feb. 10).


But Wheeler, who lobbied for the coal industry prior to joining the Trump administration, argued EPA is doing everything it can to reduce global warming. Emissions from burning coal for electricity are a major contributor to global warming.

"Actions speak louder than words," he said, citing EPA proposals that would slightly decrease planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from the electric utility industry and require minimal energy efficiency gains from the auto industry.

Both regulations would replace rules put in place during the Obama administration that would have cut more carbon from the atmosphere.

Wheeler also claimed total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 14% since 2005. But that’s no longer the case.

EPA’s draft emissions inventory earlier this month showed a net increase in 2018, the last year for which data is available. Emissions fell 10.2% between 2005 and 2018, according to EPA’s data.

Tonko, who leads Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, wasn’t swayed by the administrator’s response.

"Excluding climate from the budget, eliminating research and voluntary industry partnership programs, and weakening modest existing rules, which is happening, does not give me any indication that the agency is taking this environmental threat seriously," he said.

Wheeler, however, sought to shift the blame for EPA’s limited response to climate change onto lawmakers.

"We take climate change seriously. We are implementing the laws Congress has given us," the EPA chief said. "Congress has not passed any new additional laws to address climate change."

Early this Congress, Tonko spearheaded Energy and Commerce’s passage of a measure, H.R. 9, to keep the United States in the Paris climate accord. He is now leading the House’s effort to pass a more ambitious carbon-cutting measure (E&E Daily, Feb. 25). Neither bill is likely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.

"Mr. administrator, with all due respect, I don’t know how you could make a statement like that after the administration’s complete abandonment of federal climate action," Tonko responded. "Americans are watching; the world is watching. I don’t think anyone is reassured."

Reporter Jean Chemnick contributed.