EPA Interim Head Andrew Wheeler's Approach To Environmental Policy
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to take a moment now to consider the latest Cabinet shakeup in the Trump White House, this time at the Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned after many months of criticism and many investigations into potential ethics violations during his time at the agency. It isn't clear who President Trump will ask to fill the position permanently, but Scott Pruitt's deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, has been tapped to fill Pruitt's place as acting administrator. Wheeler is a former Senate staffer and coal lobbyist.
We wanted to hear more about who he is and how he might shape the agency, so we called Frank Maisano. He's an energy lobbyist and partner at Bracewell - that's a law firm in Washington that serves the energy industry among others. He's here with us in our studios in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Maisano, thank you so much for joining us.
FRANK MAISANO: My pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: So let's just say from the outset that we've heard a very great deal from Scott Pruitt's critics, so we've deliberately asked for a different perspective. And so I'm going to start by asking you what was Scott Pruitt's vision for the EPA, and how do you expect that to change or not under Andrew Wheeler?
MAISANO: Yeah. It's clear that the administration will probably not change direction very much. The previous administration, much to the chagrin of many in the business community and much to the delight of many in the environmental community, were very aggressive in their last few years and, in some cases, overly aggressive. And that's why you saw Supreme Court stays and some of their judgments pulled back some. And so I think that a natural correction was probably expected anyway when a new administration took office. So I think what we'll see is more of the similar deregulatory approach, putting forward rules like a new clean power plan that aren't quite as overly favorable towards environmental groups and more probably in the middle.
MARTIN: So tell us a bit more about Mr. Wheeler's background - whom you know - and what will he bring to this position.
MAISANO: Yeah. Andy Wheeler is a veteran Washington operator. And he worked in both the EPA previously as well as for a very long time on Capitol Hill as a staff director for a Senate committee on Capitol Hill that focused on the environment. You have to be a person who, one, understands the depth and complexity of the policy issues. At the same time, you have to be able to be an operator and an understander (ph) of what happens with Democrats as well and the other positions that they take. So I think Andy has a very strong background on the policy issues, a very deep background on the complexity of the policy and a very good understanding of the political push and pull that often will happen in a lot of these cases.
MARTIN: So you have to know that critics have pointed out that, in addition to his work as a lobbyist for coal and other energy companies, Andrew Wheeler also spent years working for Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. He's one of the chief climate change skeptics in the Senate.
Here's a tweet sent out yesterday by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And she tweeted that Andrew Wheeler may not have the same stink of blatant corruption as EPA Scott Pruitt, but he's just as dirty. The EPA's new acting director is a former coal lobbyist who will work to poison the agency and the environment he's supposed to protect from the inside - unquote. So how do you respond to...
MARTIN: ...Those who say that it's just a conflict of interest to have a recent energy lobbyist oversee...
MAISANO: Well, it's...
MARTIN: ...The EPA?
MAISANO: It certainly isn't that, and Elizabeth Warren knows better than that. The problem with her approach is that it's very one-sided, and it's very partisan. And, you know, Andy Wheeler is the opposite of very partisan. Andy Wheeler is a person who operates inside the mechanics of the policy arguments. And so...
MARTIN: So the question I would have for you...
MAISANO: He also...
MARTIN: ...Is how would he address a critic like her because he's going to have to face her?
MAISANO: He also, though - he also has a little bit more respect and understanding of the career staff that manage EPA. Scott Pruitt unfortunately came in and was confrontational to that career staff, whether they were science staff, whether they were policy staff, whether they were even his own political staff. They were confrontational at almost every turn. And I don't think that you'll see that type of confrontation with Andy Wheeler because he is a lower temperature type of personality and that's a really important issue for the career staff who really help manage and run the EPA better than anybody.
MARTIN: That's Frank Maisano. He's a lobbyist and communications strategist with the Bracewell firm. He was nice enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C. Mr. Maisano, thanks so much for talking with us.
MAISANO: My pleasure to be here. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "POINT BREEZE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.