EPA Head Stumped By Question About 'Clean' 'Air'
Scott Pruitt's replacement at the Environmental Protection Agency, acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, is turning out to be exactly the bureaucrat you'd expect a former coal industry lobbyist to be: a pretty smart guy who knows how to lie his ass off with a smile on his face. At an energy forum sponsored by the Washington Post Wednesday, Wheeler was simply full of provable untruths. But because he's less flamboyantly incompetent than his predecessor, Wheeler didn't sound like a crazy person who had his expensive security detail drive him all over Washington looking for just the right brand of moisturizer.
Wheeler is a bland little man in an ugly suit doing horrible things, and it would be a mistake to laugh him off just because he said kind of a dumb-sounding thing when he was asked by WaPo reporter Juliet Eilperin to name three policies his agency had put in place that have resulted in cleaner air and cleaner water. Wheeler replied, "I'm not sure I'm going to be able to give three off the top of my head."
And yet he managed to name three things, hooray he wins! Problem is, not one of the things Wheeler named have done jack shit to actually clean the air: One is mere vaporware -- a proposal to do something in the future -- and the other two items will actually increase pollution, especially emissions of greenhouse gases.
Let's review the tape!
The first item Wheeler named, a plan to impose stricter limits on nitrogen oxide emissions by heavy trucks, actually would do some good for the environment -- someday, when/if they're in place. Those pollutants contribute to smog, but John Walke of the NRDC points out Wheeler can't take any credit for cleaning the air, because at the moment the proposal is nothing more than a very nonspecific idea:
Wheeler's 1st answer is 'announcement of a proposal to reduce [nitrogen oxides] from heavy-duty trucks.'
This announcement was a press release w/ zero details. It specified no pollution reductions, won't be proposed until 2020, & won't take effect until 2024 at the earliest.
[Wheeler] does not ID any amount of air pollution reductions because he cannot; he simply does not know. Why? Because he & this EPA will not issue any heavy-duty trucks rule before the end of the (first term of the) Trump administration, managing a 2020 proposal, at most.
So no, you do not get to brag you've cleaned up pollution you might, some day, clean up -- especially given the non-zero possibility the trucking/heavy equipment industries may cry new regulations will kill jobs, so please do nothing.
Wheeler's second example made even less sense: He claimed there will be brilliant reductions in pollution thanks to rolling back the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and replacing it with a new, much filthier plan unveiled in August. A key part of the Trump plan involves mandating dirty old coal plants be kept in service longer, which even Trump's EPA admits is likely to cause between 470 and 1,400 additional deaths per year, plus untold medical bills from lung disease. WaPo reporter Eilperin later pointed out the coal plants would be kept around longer, but Wheeler breezed past it, claiming operators, freed of burdensome regulations, can now install cleaner tech at lower cost, maybe. (Haha, but they won't have to.)
Again, as Walke notes, the Trump plan will result in far more air pollution and CO2 emissions, big surprise.
So that's really a great step to clean the air, huh?
To top off his list of great steps toward reducing air pollution, Wheeler listed the administration's plan to roll back Obama's fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. This is, of course, insane. Wheeler didn't even try to explain how shittier gas mileage requirements would reduce pollution, perhaps believing that if he just kept bullshitting about other things, no one would laugh at him. He did briefly trot out again the ridiculous idea that the new standards would "save lives," because after all, better gas mileage would just make people drive more and have more crashes in their smaller more efficient cars.
Elsewhere in the interview, Wheeler continued the administration's attempts to downplay last week's multi-agency climate report, saying that honestly, he hadn't read it all, and why would he, since it was mostly written during the Obama administration, which makes it foreign, Kenyan and Muslo-communist. Wheeler stopped short of Trump's weird insistence that people with "very high levels of intelligence" like himself just don't have to believe what scientists say, but he echoed the administration line that the report was somehow dishonest and skewed to the "worst-case scenario." Can't we just be more damn optimistic?
"I have questions about the assumptions," Wheeler said, referring to the range of scenarios the report lays out for continuing business-as-usual on greenhouse gas pollution. "The majority of that report was written in 2016 and it was at the direction of the previous administration," Wheeler repeated more than once, implying that it is also a political document.
Wheeler also claimed there was something dastardly about even including the dire scenario in a scientific report, because why would anyone want to prepare for the worst?
And I don't know this for a fact — I wouldn't be surprised if the Obama administration told the report's authors to take a look at the worst-case scenario for this report.
Thank goodness, Wheeler suggested, now that smart people who understand business are in office, maybe the Trump administration might demand much more optimistic scenarios in the next climate report.
In mere reality, the National Climate Assessment covers a range of scenarios, including both the worst cases and those in which carbon emissions are drastically reduced. Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe tweeted the White House line is "demonstrably false," and she ought to know, since she wrote the damn chapter on the various climate scenarios. She went into further detail in a later series of tweets:
Considering the Trump administration is intent not just on doing nothing to reduce greenhouse emissions, but continually encourages increased coal and oil use, those worst-case projections seem pretty goddamned relevant.
Just to cap off Wheeler's lies for the day, later in the afternoon the EPA sent out a press release insisting the National Climate Assessment had somehow been dishonestly skewed. Its source? The reputable climate researchers at Tucker Carlson's Internet Tendency:
And by golly, that's sure some smoking gun: The Daily Caller piece does indeed mention a 2015 memo directing the report's authors to use both "a low-end and a high-end scenario" in the report, which somehow proves the report is unfair, because clearly when you do science, you should only consider the happiest possible outcome. Also, some smokers never get lung disease, so why are doctors such pessimists?
We especially enjoyed the fact that the Daily Caller suggests the high-end projection can't possibly be realistic because some climate scientists in recent UN reports have said that projection may be too severe -- the first time we've ever seen a rightwing rag insist we need to listen to UN climatologists. Still, the takeaway is clear: Scientists disagree about some of the particulars, so climate change is a complete hoax, the end.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.