A Lafayette mother of three joined a coalition of other moms in the nation’s Capitol last week to raise concerns about Andrew Wheeler as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
As KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, Wheeler’s critics are not convinced he will protect the environmental or human health.
Julie Piller traveled to Washington last week to ask members of Congress to think twice before confirming Andrew Wheeler to lead the EPA. During the confirmation hearing, Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist, told U-S senators that the EPA’s actions under the Trump administration demonstrate that regulations aren’t necessary to drive environmental progress. Piller attended the hearing, with the group Moms Clean Air Force and says the EPA should be taking action to improve air quality standards, not rolling them back.
“We need somebody that will boldly and honestly highlight what the real concerns of our air quality are, and what health dangers are, and move to address them,” said Piller.
Piller is particularly concerned about Wheeler’s deregulatory agenda regarding the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. Piller notes mercury affects brain development in infants, which impacts a child’s ability to walk, talk and read. While Wheeler agreed it wouldn’t make sense to remove scrubbers already installed at some power plants to reduce mercury emissions, Piller was not convinced.
“But if you’re not enforcing it, or you’re allowing new plants to be built without that same technology, then you really are going to harm any progress that has been made.”
Dominique Browning is the co-founder and senior director of Moms Clean Air Force and says the Mercury Standards rule so far has been successfully implemented at many coal-fired power plants.
“The coal industry put these scrubbers on their plants and they realized that, in fact, it didn’t cost anywhere near as much as they thought it was going to cost to put on these protections,” said Browning.
Companies have invested approximately18-billion dollars to meet the current Mercury standard, and according to the Edison Electric Institute, pollution has dropped by almost 90 percent. Browning says its just more proof that the Standard was working.
“It was enormously successful, we started seeing mercury levels in Atlantic fish drop which meant that fish was getting safer and our water bodies were getting safer. It’s not all the way done but it’s much better,” added Browning.
At the hearing, Wheeler said he plans to keep the mercury-reducing scrubbers that are currently in place. But there’s already a new proposal from the EPA to recalculate and lower the estimated benefits, such as healthcare savings, from the mercury rules.
The Trump administration’s EPA has worked to roll back numerous protections, including fuel efficiency and emissions standards for cars. Browning says it’s difficult for the average citizen keep up with all the regulatory rollbacks that could harm their health.
“We’re slammed with these rollbacks week after week after week and people are becoming a bit numb. So we have to realize that we have a choice here to stop this barrage, this onslaught,” said Browning.
Wheeler defended the EPA’s work, arguing that fewer standards will keep vehicles affordable. Wheeler has been the acting director of the EPA since his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned last July amid ethic scandals. Despite protests and objections, Wheeler is likely to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-to-47 majority.