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EPA chief worked for climate change skeptic

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who is now acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was a "driving force" behind the agenda of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who called climate change a "hoax," according to people familiar with Wheeler's work for the senator. CNN's Drew Griffin reports.

Posted: Dec 5, 2018 9:31 AM
Updated: Dec 5, 2018 9:49 AM

Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who is now acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was a "driving force" behind the agenda of Sen. James Inhofe, who called climate change a "hoax," according to people familiar with Wheeler's work for the senator.

President Donald Trump has said he intends to nominate Wheeler as the head of the EPA, and in the past five months as acting administrator, Wheeler has moved aggressively to roll back key environmental regulations, prompting critics and environmentalists to say he is fast confirming their worst fears for the agency's future.

Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, is an outspoken climate change skeptic who was at different times chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe told CNN last year the EPA was "brainwashing our kids," and famously once brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that global warming isn't real.

Inhofe said in a 2003 Senate speech, "I have offered compelling evidence that catastrophic global warming is a hoax," adding, "the claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science."

Wheeler worked for Inhofe for 14 years, and was his chief counsel and staff director. In that role, Wheeler would have overseen hearings Inhofe held and approved reports Inhofe issued claiming humans have no direct impact on climate change, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. In videos of committee hearings at the time, Wheeler is often seen whispering in Inhofe's ear and handing him paperwork. In the 2008 "Almanac of the Unelected," Wheeler's job is described as "to work on (Inhofe's) agenda for the committee."

At a Washington Post forum last week, Wheeler said, "I believe ... that man does ... have an impact on the climate. That CO2 has an impact on the climate and we do take that seriously." At the same forum, he admitted he had not read the climate change report released by his agency, which outlined dire warnings of the impact of global warming.

Elizabeth Gore, who was chief of staff for Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and is now a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, told CNN that Wheeler "was very high profile, he was a driving force behind Inhofe's very dangerous agenda to attack climate change and undermine the policies that would protect us from carbon pollution."

Wheeler declined CNN's request for an interview, but in a statement the EPA said in part that the activing administrator, "has made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions ... that humans have an impact on the climate." An EPA official also said, "Mr. Wheeler was deeply honored to work for Senator Inhofe in several capacities, however Mr. Wheeler did not write and was not the architect of the Senator's climate science speeches."

Wheeler is one of six top EPA officials who either worked directly for Inhofe or on the Senate's Energy and Public Works Committee. Others are Wheeler's chief of staff, his principal deputy assistant administrator, his assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, a senior adviser for policy and an associate administrator for policy. An EPA official said the staffers started working at EPA before Wheeler arrived.

Wheeler moved to the EPA'S top slot in July after then-Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign amid numerous investigations, including questions surrounding his altering of federal documents, over-spending, use of security and other numerous scandals.

Like his former boss, Wheeler is seen to be focused on reversing regulations that protect the nation's air and water and instead promoting the wishes of the industries impacted by those regulations. Critics fear that Wheeler, who works quietly behind the scenes and knows how to get things done in Washington, is more dangerous to the nation's health than the scandal-plagued Pruitt ever was.

Michael Gerrard, faculty director of Columbia Law School's Climate Deregulation Tracker, which follows government deregulation, believes Wheeler will be more successful at reversing environmental protections, "because he understands the administrative and legal process better and he does not have all the craziness of Pruitt's personal proclivities that got in the way of his effectiveness."

From 2009 until he joined the EPA last year, Wheeler was a lobbyist for energy, mining and coal companies. Bob Murray, the powerful CEO of Murray Energy, paid Wheeler's lobbying firm nearly $3 million to, among other things, help the coal baron get access to major decision makers, such as a meeting in March 2017 with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

When Trump was elected, Murray Energy drafted an "action plan" for the Trump administration, essentially a wish list to get the Environmental Protection Agency off the coal industry's back.

"Not a whole lot has changed from Pruitt to Wheeler," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who has demanded the inspector general investigate Murray's wish list and Wheeler's ties to industry. "Now more than ever, Trump's EPA takes its marching orders from fossil fuel and other polluting industries. While Wheeler may not try to finagle a fast food franchise for his wife, he's no different from Pruitt when it comes to shilling for industry and pushing whatever policies they want."

The EPA said in a statement, "Mr. Wheeler did not lobby the Trump EPA while working for Murray Energy nor did he did work on the action plan or receive a copy of the memo."

But in the five months since Wheeler has taken over, the EPA has pulled back on regulating the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, coal plants and motor vehicles.

Gerrard told CNN, "Wheeler is carrying out a wish-list of the industry lobbyists who wanted to shut down the environmental regulations, as he himself was a lobbyist with exactly the same objective. But now he is in the driver's seat."

In August, the EPA published the "Affordable Clean Energy" plan, designed to replace the Clean Power Plan, which was the Obama administration's key measure to address climate change. The new rule sets far less stringent emission guidelines.

That same month, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a proposed rule to weaken car emissions and fuel economy standards. And in September, the EPA published a proposed rule weakening methane emission standards for some oil and gas production and changing requirements on leak repairs.

At the Washington Post forum, Wheeler said the Trump administration deserves credit for a decline in carbon emissions. "In the first year of the Trump administration, we've seen a 2.7% reduction in CO2 from 2016 to 2017," he said.

Asked to name three EPA policies that are contributing to cleaner air, Wheeler struggled to answer. "I'm not sure I'm going to be able to give three off the top of my head," he said. Of the three he later listed, two are proposed regulations that would dial-back back Obama-era rules that aimed to reduce pollution.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 268672

Reported Deaths: 5917
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17928195
Hinds17030337
Harrison14510212
Rankin11315223
Jackson11054193
Lee9109147
Madison8663171
Jones6853120
Forrest6260125
Lauderdale6161196
Lowndes5582123
Lafayette5269101
Lamar508765
Washington4965125
Bolivar4164110
Oktibbeha411585
Panola389881
Pontotoc380460
Monroe3727111
Warren3716103
Marshall360172
Union360165
Pearl River3527106
Neshoba3516158
Leflore3132110
Lincoln308389
Hancock300963
Sunflower294277
Tate281862
Alcorn274055
Pike272984
Itawamba271263
Scott264055
Yazoo258456
Prentiss255454
Coahoma252455
Copiah251549
Tippah251551
Simpson244872
Leake238967
Marion228274
Covington224873
Grenada224673
Wayne216336
Adams216271
Winston208271
George206440
Newton201447
Attala197465
Tishomingo196361
Chickasaw190245
Jasper183138
Holmes172568
Clay168637
Tallahatchie158035
Stone153625
Clarke148762
Calhoun142022
Smith131926
Yalobusha124935
Walthall115438
Greene114929
Noxubee114526
Montgomery112936
Lawrence107917
Carroll106922
Perry105931
Amite102727
Webster98024
Claiborne90125
Tunica89621
Jefferson Davis89330
Benton86923
Humphreys85625
Kemper81220
Quitman7169
Franklin71017
Choctaw64013
Wilkinson60125
Jefferson57321
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1616
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 445909

Reported Deaths: 6896
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson651891049
Mobile32138590
Madison28596223
Tuscaloosa21703276
Montgomery20220336
Shelby19584138
Baldwin17496216
Lee13378109
Morgan12741145
Etowah12196189
Calhoun11626228
Marshall10513126
Houston9097168
Limestone842481
Cullman8363125
Elmore8283112
Lauderdale7986112
DeKalb7935112
St. Clair7915139
Talladega6552112
Walker6068184
Jackson605649
Colbert560194
Blount551794
Autauga544065
Coffee470569
Dale415186
Franklin378150
Russell362816
Chilton348079
Covington344681
Escambia342244
Tallapoosa3184109
Dallas314197
Chambers308575
Clarke307339
Pike267735
Lawrence256958
Marion255763
Winston235243
Bibb224751
Geneva214747
Marengo212031
Pickens201831
Barbour188240
Hale187444
Fayette181230
Butler175960
Cherokee167433
Henry161325
Monroe153521
Randolph148236
Washington144027
Clay131050
Crenshaw126245
Macon124337
Cleburne123627
Lamar121324
Lowndes117636
Wilcox109422
Bullock105829
Perry100518
Conecuh98222
Sumter90828
Greene78323
Coosa64619
Choctaw52224
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