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How Things Will (And Won’t) Change At EPA With Scott Pruitt Gone


The Environmental Protection Agency is likely to see smoother processes, less ethical controversy and a small number of potential policy shifts with Administrator Scott Pruitt gone. But don’t expect the overall direction of the agency to change.

Andrew Wheeler and Scott Pruitt

Why it matters: For months Pruitt’s various scandals have dominated headlines and distracted attention from the agency’s regulatory rollbacks under Trump. With him gone, you will have an agency scarred by a tumultuous run but nonetheless on the same policy track.

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What’s next: Andrew Wheeler, EPA’s current deputy administrator, will be the acting administrator, Trump said in his tweet Thursday. He’ll remain there until or unless Trump appoints a replacement and successfully gets the nominee through what would be a protracted and politically grueling Senate confirmation process.

Wheeler is a long-time Washington lobbyist and government official. He has represented coal producer Murray Energy, whose CEO Bob Murray is close to Trump, since 2009, according to federal lobbying disclosures.

Let’s run down how things are likely to change — and not change — under Wheeler.


Wheeler is expected to run a more conventional and inclusive policy process, even though the end results are policies similar to those of Pruitt.

“On policies, I don’t think Andy will be any different than Pruitt, truly. They see things the same way,” Jeff Holmstead, former top EPA official in the George W. Bush administration. “Andy is going to be quieter, and probably less political in advancing the same agenda.”

Wheeler has worked at EPA, on Capitol Hill and in lobbying shops in Washington for decades, and is thus expected to operate more inclusively in his native environment. Pruitt, by contrast, was tapped partly because he hadn’t worked inside the nation’s capital—and because he sued EPA more than a dozen times while he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.

Some environmentalists are hoping these differences means an ever-so-slightly more moderate anti-regulatory bent. “I do believe there would be a more nuanced approach to rollbacks, if there is such a thing, compared to Mr. Pruitt’s tenure,” said John Walke, clean air director at Natural Resources Defense Council.

Climate change

Wheeler is certain to continue rolling back President Obama’s climate regulations, including a rule cutting carbon emissions from power plants. He’ll also continue the rulemaking process on issuing a far narrower rule to replace Obama’s version, a move the agency is taking given legal precedent.

Like Pruitt, Wheeler also questions the mainstream climate science consensus, namely that the burning of fossil fuels, along with other human activity, is driving Earth’s temperature beginning in this last century.

The White House has pushed back against Pruitt’s idea to host a formal debate on climate science. Given Wheeler’s expected adherence to process more than Pruitt, conservative-group and industry sources close to the agency say he’s unlikely to focus much in this space. This includes opting not to review a 2009 scientific finding by Obama’s EPA that serves as the legal underpinning of most carbon regulations.

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