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Senate Confirms Coal Lobbyist as #2 at EPA as Trump Moves to Slash Clean Air Rules

The president just granted "a polluter's dream" while federal lawmakers approved "Big Oil's backup plan in case Scott Pruitt finally drowns in his own corruption."

air pollution

President Donald Trump issued a memo on Thursday directing the EPA to scale back clean air regulations. (Photo: isciencetimes.com)

As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faces mounting criticism for a controversial condo rental and calls for his resignation, President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered the agency to significantly scale back "one of the strongest science-based public health protections we have" while the Senate confirmed a former coal lobbyist to serve as Pruitt's second-in-command.

"This is really just a backdoor attack on national clean air protections."
—Frank O'Donnell,
Clean Air Watch

The Clean Air Act requires states to submit plans to the EPA outlining how they intend to comply with federal standards for common air pollutants that are reviewed by the agency every five years. States that submit inadequate plans—or decline to even develop them—are subject to federal compliance plans for meeting air pollution standards.

In a presidential memorandum, Trump directed Pruitt to issue quick decisions on state plans and preconstruction permits; review federal compliance plans and the procedure for establishing nationwide air pollution standards; implement "flexible offset policies" for the purpose of promoting "economic expansion" in rural regions; and take a series of steps to "provide relief to state and local air agencies addressing emissions that are beyond their control."

Aligned with the overall Trump-Pruitt mission of slashing regulations that aim to protect the health of the public and the environment, the top goal of Trump's latest memo, according to the agency leader nicknamed "Pruitt the Polluter," is "reducing regulatory burdens for domestic manufacturing."

"This is really just a backdoor attack on national clean air protections," Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, told Alexander Kaufman at The Huffington Post. "It is a polluter's dream."

In a series of tweets, Kaufman outlined some of the order's most damning elements:

Meanwhile, in a 53-45 vote, the Senate on Thursday confirmed Andrew Wheeler to serve as the EPA's deputy administrator. Wheeler was a member of the Trump transition team, has worked as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry, and spent more than two decades serving as an aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), "one of the most outspoken climate deniers in Congress."

"As Scott Pruitt stumbles from scandal to scandal, there is nothing more dangerous than a dirty energy lobbyist waiting in the wings to become acting administrator."
Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth

His appointment was vehemently opposed by conservationists including Lukas Ross, a climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, who called Wheeler "Big Oil's backup plan in case Scott Pruitt finally drowns in his own corruption."

"Wheeler will continue the Trump-Pruitt agenda of fossil fuel worship and corporate favoritism," warned Ross. "As Scott Pruitt stumbles from scandal to scandal, there is nothing more dangerous than a dirty energy lobbyist waiting in the wings to become acting administrator."

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were among those who voted against Wheeler's confirmation. Harris called Wheeler's appointment "absurd," while Warren warned, "Now he could work to poison the agency—and the environment he's supposed to protect—for years to come." 

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