Controversial Trump environmental protection chief to address Tel Aviv meet
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Controversial Trump environmental protection chief to address Tel Aviv meet

Andrew Wheeler, seen as a major player in rolling back environmental regulation in favor of business, invited to give keynote address at Tuesday’s WATEC water tech conference

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

In this September 19, 2019, photo, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks about US President Donald Trump's decision to revoke California's authority to set auto mileage standards stricter than those issued by federal regulators, at EPA headquarters in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this September 19, 2019, photo, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks about US President Donald Trump's decision to revoke California's authority to set auto mileage standards stricter than those issued by federal regulators, at EPA headquarters in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

US President Donald Trump’s environmental protection czar, who has been accused of rolling back regulations in order to benefit business interests, will give the opening keynote address at a major international conference on water management in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Andrew Wheeler, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency since February, has admitted that greenhouse gas emissions are an issue, but has said that he does not see them as a grave threat to society and believes that they can be kept in check by a free market and improvements in technology.

Wheeler will be addressing the 8th biennial WATEC conference, which takes place from November 18 to 21.

The WATEC conference, which in 2017 attracted 10,000 visitors from 90 countries, features keynote speeches, roundtables, and an exhibition space where the latest water-related technologies are displayed.

A statement to The Times of Israel from conference organizers said, “WATEC is one of the most important and established exhibitions to take place in Israel and its aim is to expose the world to Israel’s industrial activity in the field of water. Industry heads, regulators, company directors and producers come to exhibit what they do and to learn about innovation. For this reason, Andrew Wheeler has been invited this year to describe the activities of the Environmental Protection Agency in the area of water.”

Wheeler’s previous jobs have included representing coal baron Robert E. Murray, lobbying against environmental regulations passed under the Obama administration, and serving as chief counsel to Republican Senator James Inhofe. Inhofe, who once chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, was described by the Guardian newspaper in 2017 as climate change’s biggest enemy in the Senate.

Inhofe, who reportedly received more than $530,000 from the oil and gas industries, co-authored a letter signed by 22 senators calling on Trump to take the US out of the Paris Climate Accords, which the US formally announced that it would do earlier this month.

The Accords aim to keep global temperature rises this century to well below two degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and to try to keep them below 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Sen. Jim Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, at a Senate Armed Services Committee session on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Wheeler’s latest move as EPA head has been to push for new rules which he says will increase transparency but which critics say could deny policy-makers the benefits of much research linking industrial and other forms of pollution to public health.

A proposed new rule requires that all raw data on which a piece of scientific research has been based be made public for independent verification of a study’s conclusions.

The problem is that raw data for public health research frequently includes confidential medical records of individuals, which cannot be made public.

A statement from the EPA said that confidential personal information would be protected and that scientists across the country had already approved methods to gain access to a study’s underlying data that contains personal information without revealing the identity of the individuals.

Wheeler has also led the Trump administration’s cavalry charge against the state of California in a dispute over the state’s authority to determine vehicle emissions standards that are stricter than those set by Washington.

Earlier this year, the EPA revoked California’s authority to take action under the Clean Air Act after the state struck a deal with four carmakers to incorporate much stricter emissions limits. California and 13 other states are now suing the Trump administration.

According to a New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School and other sources, more than 80 environmental rules and regulations are in the process of being scrapped by the Trump administration.

In the US, action on the environment is split between many executive branches and congressional committees, but the EPA is one of the most important players.

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