EPA chief pledges more cleanups, less focus on climate

FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2020, file photo, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks about the rollback of the 2016 methane emissions rules to undo Obama-era rules designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields and pipelines at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh. Wheeler says a second Trump administration term would bring more focus on pollution cleanups and less on climate change. Wheeler defended the administration's environmental record Sept. 3, 2020, in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the EPA's founding. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2020, file photo, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks about the rollback of the 2016 methane emissions rules to undo Obama-era rules designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields and pipelines at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh. Wheeler says a second Trump administration term would bring more focus on pollution cleanups and less on climate change. Wheeler defended the administration's environmental record Sept. 3, 2020, in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the EPA's founding. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler on Thursday defended the Trump administration's record on protecting the nation's air and water and said a second term would bring a greater focus on pollution cleanups in disadvantaged communities and less emphasis on climate change.

In a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the EPA's founding, Wheeler said the agency was moving back toward an approach that had long promoted economic growth as well as a healthy environment and drawn bipartisan support.

“Unfortunately, in the past decade or so, some members of former administrations and progressives in Congress have elevated single issue advocacy – in many cases focused just on climate change – to virtue-signal to foreign capitals, over the interests of communities within their own country,” he said.

Environmental groups and former EPA chiefs from both parties have accused Wheeler and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, of undermining the agency’s mission by weakening or eliminating dozens of regulations intended to protect air and water quality, reduce climate change and protect endangered species.

“EPA was founded to protect people—you, me and our families—but the Trump administration has turned it into an agency to protect polluters.” said Gina McCarthy, who led the agency during the Obama administration and now is president of the NRDC Action Fund, the political arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Under President Donald Trump, EPA has raised the bar for requiring environmental reviews of highway and pipeline construction; reduced limits and reporting requirements for methane emissions; rolled back vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards; slashed the number of protected streams and wetlands; and repealed federal limits on carbon emissions from power plants.

Courts have blocked some of the changes, but others have taken effect.

In his remarks, Wheeler said that if Trump is re-elected EPA would support “community-driven environmentalism” that emphasizes on-the-ground results such as faster cleanup of Superfund toxic waste dumps and abandoned industrial sites that could be used for new businesses.