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Moms Question EPA Nominee's Coal Past

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Andrew Wheeler, who is nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, worked as a lobbyist for the coal industry. (USDA)
Andrew Wheeler, who is nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, worked as a lobbyist for the coal industry. (USDA)
 By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH, Contact
January 17, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Moms from Ohio are among those asking elected leaders to think hard about making Andrew Wheeler the nation's top environmental steward.

In the seven months since becoming acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Wheeler has moved to unravel regulations, including clean water rules and methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

As a nurse and a mom, Peggy Berry of Dayton contends Wheeler's past as a lobbyist for the coal industry is particularly concerning, considering the EPA is now also looking to roll back limits on mercury emissions from coal plants.

"For him to look at what they can do to decrease or remove that health benefit from the standard just makes me really concerned about him being administrator,” Berry states. “I'm afraid we've gone from oil and gas to coal."

Even small amounts of mercury can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.

During a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Wheeler said protecting human health and the environment were his most important responsibility.

Some Senate Democrats criticized Wheeler's actions to undo Obama-era rules intended to improve the environment and protect public health.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard was passed in 2011, and the EPA now maintains it's too expensive and cannot be justified as "appropriate and necessary."

Dominique Browning, co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force, counters that the standard has reduced mercury emissions considerably as well as other toxins spewed by coal plants – most of which she notes already are in compliance.

"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," Browning points out.

Wheeler became acting EPA administrator after Scott Pruitt resigned amid an ethics controversy.

Browning says she wishes there were less public focus on Trump administration scandals, and more attention given to attacks on the environment and public health.

"We're slammed with these rollbacks week after week after week and people are becoming a bit numb,” she states. “So we have to realize that we have a choice here to stop this barrage, this onslaught."

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