February 27, 2019

Wyden: “Andrew Wheeler Fights for Those Who Endanger Our Health and Pollute Our Air and Water”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to the nomination of Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“The mission of the EPA is to protect human health, and to fight for clean air and water, for everyone. Andrew Wheeler fights for those who endanger our health and pollute our air and water,” Wyden said. “This isn’t a tough call. I’m a no on this backward and dangerous nomination. And I urge my colleagues to stand with me.”

Wyden’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below. 

Wyden Floor Statement on Andrew Wheeler Nomination

As prepared for delivery 

Mr. President, this week the Senate is debating the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to serve as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I’ve got bad news for anyone who wants the EPA to live up to its mission: to protect public health so Americans can breathe clean air and drink clean water.

Andrew Wheeler is Scott Pruitt without the appetite for luxury travel on the taxpayer dime. Yet another Trump appointee doing the bidding of the dirtiest, most powerful industries out there, no matter what physical harm his policies will inevitably bring to Americans. An EPA administrator ought to work to protect our health and the environment. Wheeler has spent his career as an industry lobbyist doing just the opposite.

Given what he’s done during his time as acting head of the EPA, he’s already proven what sort of backward-facing administrator he will be: Andrew Wheeler will be “Administrator Rollback.”

He’s rolling back fuel economy standards that reduce pollution and help drivers save at the pump -- and not even car makers support him on that.

He’s rolling back rules designed to stop dirty power plants from belching toxic gasses into the air.

He’s rolling back rules designed to protect workers from exposure on the job to dangerous chemicals that can cause asphyxiation and heart attacks.

He’s rolling back EPA’s enforcement writ large, eviscerating a whole host of safeguards already on the books. Civil penalties against polluters are the lowest since 1994. Inspections of potentially toxic industrial sites amount to half of what they were in 2010. Civil fines have plummeted on his watch. Judicial enforcement cases initiated and concluded have been cut in half. The Wheeler EPA is letting environmental criminals off the hook -- and these guys aren’t committing victimless crimes. They’re poisoning our communities and our workplaces, our air and our water.

And perhaps most alarming of all, Wheeler essentially waves his hand at the existential threat of climate change. 

I hold a lot of open-to-all town meetings in Oregon. Just last week I held five in different parts of my home state. The issue of climate change comes up at every single one of those meetings. At the root of every one of those questions is the fact that people are terrified of what climate change is going to bring. They see the news coming out of Washington, and they see that the Trump administration isn’t just waving the white flag of surrender on climate change, they’re going out of their way to bring it on even faster. 

In my home state, when you’re talking about climate change, you’re talking about fires. And not your grandfather’s fires. They are bigger, they are more powerful, and they happen almost year round. It’s not just a few months in the summer like it used to be. 

Recently, one massive fire just outside of Portland jumped over the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington. It jumped over an entire river -- not a stream -- a big, broad river with incredible vistas and sloping hills on both sides. That’s what these new megafires are capable of. 

In Oregon we’ve had to get used to the idea of clean air refugees. People who live near areas where fires break out wake up with ash built up on their cars like snow in the wintertime. California has seen its own huge infernos causing horrible fatalities in the last few years. Nevada, Colorado, Washington, too.

But climate change is not just about fires. Across the West there’s the threat of crippling drought. The hurricanes that batter the east coast and the gulf of Mexico are intensifying and drowning our cities with rain. It seems like every day there’s another report about how sea levels are rising faster than previously estimated. 

Climate change is affecting wildlife in such catastrophic ways that it’s driving mass extinction events. Entire ecosystems will be lost. This week, there were reports that an ice sheet larger than the island of Manhattan broke off from Antarctica. So the effects of climate change aren’t some threat way off in the future. It’s already a massive problem today. 

It’s only going to get worse, if this country doesn’t address it with big, bold steps. My wife and I have 11 year old twins and a 6 year old daughter. I think about what their generation is going to be dealing with down the road.

That’s why there’s so much grassroots energy out there about the Green New Deal, which I’m proud to co-sponsor. I can tell you from the conversations I have in Oregon, people know what a grave threat climate change poses, and they want action.

And that’s also why Andrew Wheeler is the wrong person to lead the EPA. He’s not just ignoring the threat of climate change, he’s making it worse by actively suppressing the authorities the EPA has to take this challenge head-on. 

The mission of the EPA is to protect human health, and to fight for clean air and water, for everyone. Andrew Wheeler fights for those who endanger our health and pollute our air and water.

This isn’t a tough call. I’m a NO on this backward and dangerous nomination. And I urge my colleagues to stand with me. 

I yield the floor.