In the midst of all of the Trump administration drama, there is something important going on that has mostly slipped under the radar.
Scott Pruitt, the fourteenth director of the EPA, resigned amid various scandals and accusations. His deputy director, Andrew Wheeler, was the interim director afterwards and later confirmed as director on February 28, 2019.
Many people view Wheeler as a better alternative to Pruitt’s unethical management and uber-conservative environmental policy, but some believe he may be equally damaging to the environment. While Wheeler does believe in climate change, his actions thus far are equally conservative and attracting less attention than Pruitt’s scandalous time as director.
Pruitt’s actions as head of the EPA included limiting policies to regulate neurotoxins such as mercury and arsenic. He filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA before he was the head of the EPA, opposing, amongst other policies, the good neighbor rule, which regulated pollution that crosses state lines. States were required to manage smog even when if impacted places other than their own state.
Wheeler is an ex-coal lobbyist, which some view as a conflict of interest. He is also the vice president of the Washington Coal Club.
“We worry the EPA won’t conserve and protect but will benefit corporations,” said Annabel Todd, the president of Riverside’s environmental club.
“I think that appointing him really is highlighting the priorities of the current administration,” said Dr. Megan Lupek, a professor of environmental science and a part of the environmental first year program at NC State.
“I think we should try to curb our emissions, making that a priority in order to make big differences and make up for our past,” said Lupek.
Others, however, are not sure that this should be considered a conflict of interest, because it is difficult, if not impossible, to have a government agency with no partisan leanings or biases, due to funding and leadership.
“It wouldn’t really be any better if the EPA were run by the head of a solar panel company,” said RHS environmental science teacher Jeffrey Harris.
Harris also believes that the EPA needs to be more careful of the economic impacts of environmental regulation, and environmental activists need to be careful of catastrophizing our changing environment.
Many democrats and environmentalists believe that the world needs to be more environmentally conscious, even if there is a possibility of economic detriment.
“Anything changed will impact the economy, but climate change will also damage it.” said Quinn Roberts, another member of Riverside’s environmental club.
Most recently, EPA policy under Wheeler included expanding the amount of ethanol allowed in car gasoline. Ethanol has been linked to increased smog, especially in the summer.
Another controversial decisions that happened under Wheeler has been the agency’s refusal to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that has been linked to problems in child brain development, on a country wide level. Several states have or are trying to ban chlorpyrifos on a statewide level, including Hawaii and California. In mid April, an appeals court gave the EPA 90 days to take action about chlorpyrifos but those 90 days are not yet up, so the plan going forward is unclear.
Riverside engineering Alan Huber used to work for the EPA as an environmental engineer developing models of air flow and pollution in built areas. He believes that it is important to think about short versus long term growth in the economy and in the environment, and worries the current leadership is reversing years of climate research with policy rollbacks and relaxation.
“We need to continue to understand how pollutants affect our health, but if it’s not a known problem they don’t want to discover it,” said Huber. “I would have a hard time working for that organization now.”