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'A Disgrace': Bernie Sanders Takes Trump EPA Pick to Task for Claiming Climate Change Not 'Greatest Crisis' Facing Planet

The acting EPA chief repeatedly downplayed the threat of the climate crisis and brushed aside scientific evidence during his Senate confirmation hearing

Andrew Wheeler answers senators' questions during his confirmation hearing to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"How does it happen that the nominee to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not mention the words 'climate change' at a time when the scientific community thinks that climate change is the great environmental crisis facing this planet?"

"The person Donald Trump has nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't believe climate change is a 'crisis.' That is not only a disgrace, it is incredibly dangerous to the future of our planet."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

That was one of many questions Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had for Andrew Wheeler—President Donald Trump's choice for EPA administrator—during his first confirmation hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where the former coal lobbyist totally ignored the climate crisis in his opening remarks, downplayed the threat of global warming when pressed, and brushed aside the scientific community's warnings that urgent and bold action is needed to avoid planet-wide disaster.

When Sanders asked Wheeler if he believes climate change is a "global crisis" that requires "unprecedented" policy changes, the EPA nominee responded that the warming planet is an "issue" but repeatedly refused to call it a "crisis."

"I believe that climate change is a global issue that must be addressed globally," Wheeler said. "I would not call it the greatest crisis, no sir."

According to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 by to avert global catastrophe.

"The person Donald Trump has nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't believe climate change is a "crisis," Sanders wrote on Twitter following Wednesday's hearing. "That is not only a disgrace, it is incredibly dangerous to the future of our planet."

Wheeler has been serving as acting EPA chief since his scandal-ridden predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned in July. In a statement following Wednesday's Senate hearing, Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook declared that the dismissal of "the clear threat to Americans from the climate crisis should be enough to immediately disqualify Wheeler from being the head of EPA."

"With many families still reeling from their lives being upended by the impacts of climate change," Cook concluded, "Americans deserve an EPA administrator who will aggressively engage the crisis, not swat it aside as merely another 'issue' that we need to address."

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Sanders went on to grill Wheeler on whether, if confirmed, he will commit to taking action on two specific consequences of a warming planet—namely, rising sea levels and devastating wildfires.

"We have people here who do not believe climate change is even real," Sanders said, gesturing in the direction of Republican senators.

Wheeler responded by acknowledging that rising sea levels are a "concern," but refused to commit to taking action and added that "we believe in adaptation."

The EPA nominee then proceeded to echo Trump's widely ridiculed and debunked talking point that the deadly wildfires in California in 2018 were largely due to poor "forest management," not climate change.

"That's the biggest issue, not the droughts that we are seeing?" Sanders asked.

"That is the biggest issue," Wheeler said. "In my opinion."

Watch the full exchange between Sanders and Wheeler:

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