Politics

Goodbye, Andrew Wheeler

Andrew Wheeler smiles as he walks with some papers in his right hand
Andrew Wheeler in the East Room of the White House on July 8, 2019. Jabin Botsford/Washington Post via Getty Images

Remember Scott Pruitt? The Trump administration’s first Environmental Protection Agency administrator was such a blatantly horrid, corrupt, slimy, anti-environment son of a gun that his resignation in July 2018, brought about by the tireless work of activist groups, felt like a hard-earned victory for science. But conservationists didn’t breathe too easily, knowing his climate change–denying lackey, Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler, was next in line—and that what Wheeler lacked in theatrics and chaos he made up for in quiet, brutal efficiency.

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Nearly immediately after taking over, Wheeler engaged in the time-honored Republican tradition of “reshuffling” the agency. He eliminated EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor in a move targeted to dismiss its role of providing independent, quality scientific research to influence the agency’s decisions. He then shifted around the structure of regional offices to further reduce the number of EPA staff, even though many had already departed during Pruitt’s reign. In turn, he consistently nominated chemical and energy industry workers and representatives to EPA committees. During the summer of 2019, a particularly horrific time for Trumpian environmental policy, Wheeler’s EPA proposed rules to curb regulations on methane emissions and car pollution that were so extreme even the companies they were supposed to help expressed concern. And earlier this year, he weakened the Clean Car Standards, one of the country’s most significant emissions regulations, which set benchmarks for automobiles to become more efficient and reduce pollution. (The standards are now basically nothing.) When the New York Times cataloged the 99 environmental rollbacks—including weakened controls on mercury, pollution from mining, air pollution, water pollution, and toxic substances—that have either taken place or were kickstarted during President Donald Trump’s term, it found that the majority of them had been fulfilled by Wheeler’s EPA.

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Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, was just one of a long line of business toadies who joined the Trump administration in order to stop the government from governing. Like the Kochs and Harold Hamm, Wheeler promulgated destruction for business’s sake, but his environmental focus also meant endangering air, water, and soil quality at the risk of millions of human lives. In the end, no one except polluters and climate deniers was really served by this public servant. The most depressing aspect of all this is how worthless it was—the EPA head using his power to do everything except protect the environment, just so a few energy companies could make a few more bucks.

On Wednesday, the U.S. officially exited the Paris Agreement, completing one of the longtime goals of Wheeler’s former boss and going against the wishes of American voters. President-elect Joe Biden promises to reenter the agreement on his first day in office, yet the road back to rebuilding the already-skimpy environmental and climate protection commitments we once had will be fraught under a divided Congress. But for now, let’s celebrate that this oily administrator is heading for the exits. Andrew Wheeler: Begone.

This is part of a series of goodbyes to Trumpworld figures. Read the rest here.

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