If President Trump gets his way, the U.S. Senate will confirm a former coal lobbyist to lead the Environmental Protection Agency later this month. Given his myriad other scandals competing for our attention, the fact that President Trump picked a coal lobbyist to lead the agency tasked with protecting human and environmental health might seem like just another one to add to the pile -- but new polling shows voters in key states are strongly against the idea. And Senators who vote to confirm Wheeler will damage their reputation with those voters.
Wheeler is already serving as Acting EPA Administrator, taking the helm after the scandal-ridden Scott Pruitt was forced to leave the office. In Wheeler, President Trump has found someone less sullied by petty scandals involving hand lotion and private travel, but every bit as supplicant to deep-pocketed polluters. That is apparently what Trump wants. But it’s not what Americans want.
Polling has made clear that voters are increasingly concerned about policies that do damage to environmental safeguards. To underscore that point, EDF Action just surveyed four key states to take voters temperature on confirming the ex-coal lobbyist to lead EPA. Overwhelmingly, voters oppose confirming Wheeler in these states:
- In Colorado, 50 percent of voters oppose Wheeler’s confirmation, compared to 28 percent supporting it.
- In Arizona, 48 percent oppose Wheeler, while just 22 percent support his confirmation.
- In Maine, 52 percent oppose Wheeler, and just 26 percent support his confirmation.
- In North Carolina, 46 percent oppose Wheeler, and only 22 support percent his confirmation.
The polls also show voters are already wary of certain Senators and the job they’re doing on behalf of the state. For instance, only 28 percent of Colorado voters approve of Sen. Cory Gardner’s job performance. And just 33 percent of Arizonan voters approve of Sen. McSally’s performance. A vote to confirm Wheeler won’t help their tenuous standing back home.
A look at these polls shows it doesn’t take much to convince voters that confirming Andrew Wheeler is a really bad idea. In fact, the phrase “ex-coal lobbyist” is enough of a clue for most voters. And his track record warrants every bit of skepticism that phrase evokes.
As recently as 2017 Andrew Wheeler was lobbying on behalf of deep-pocketed coal and chemical companies that wanted to cut EPA staff by half, repeal the Clean Power Plan, and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. And in his time now working at EPA, Wheeler has shown no signs of a change of heart. He’s already leading efforts to undermine safeguards such as mercury and air toxics standards that protect families from harmful coal-related pollution.
During his confirmation hearing, some Senators asked tough questions about Wheeler’s relationship with his former clients, many of which he would now be charged with regulating. But as Acting Administrator, Wheeler has already shown he will side with his long-time business partners, even if doing so comes with enormous cost to the health of Americans. And if confirmed to the post permanently, it is readily apparent Wheeler will continue what he has already started. He will push Trump’s agenda to destroy the environmental and public health protections EPA is designed to provide.
Senators should take care when casting their votes: voting to confirm Wheeler will mean owning all the damage he does from the helm of the agency.