EPA chief touts benefits of deregulation for environment

EPA chief espouses benefits of agency's environmental deregulation

© Stefani Reynolds

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler took to the microphone Tuesday to espouse the benefits of deregulation.

Wheeler, speaking to the Detroit Economic Club, said he is often asked how the agency can protect the environment by rolling back regulations.

“This question assumes that regulation is the only path to environmental protection,” Wheeler said. “Innovation and technology have led to remarkable environmental progress and often deregulation is necessary to spur on that innovation. Furthermore, deregulation does not always mean rolling back rules. More often than not it means modernizing or simplifying or streamlining regulations.”

The official touted EPA stats, showing the agency has taken 46 deregulatory actions under the Trump administration with another 45 in the pipeline. The actions that have been finalized have saved $3.7 billion in regulatory costs, he said. 

Wheeler also said the EPA was also one of the best at complying with one of President Trump’s earliest executive orders requiring agencies to get rid of two regulations for every new one they finalized, cutting 26 regulations while creating four new ones. 

Pushback:

But the agency’s approach has been heavily criticized by former EPA employees and administrators, including Republicans, who said that under the Trump administration the agency has abandoned its mission while systematically undermining protections.  

“The deregulation which Wheeler brags about removes completely or weakens the clean air, water or land standards so there is no incentive for industry to change their existing technologies no matter how polluting they are,” said Betsy Southerland, who was director of the Office of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water under the Obama administration.

“Wheeler also continues to cite the cost savings of removing or weakening standards but never mentions the enormous benefits lost.”

Two for one:

The EPA’s own inspector general said the agency has “exceeded the deregulatory goals” of Trump’s “two-for-one” executive order, and it estimated the regulatory savings were nearly $100 million for 2017 and 2018. 

Wheeler used the session to defend a number of EPA decisions taken since he was confirmed in February, including revoking a California waiver that allows them to set more stringent tailpipe emissions standards –“Federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the entire country,” — to a proposal to roll back Obama-era mileage standards for cars.

“As prices fall more Americans will be able to purchase newer, cleaner, safer vehicles — vehicles that they want to buy,” he said, saying scrapping regulations help provide certainty for companies.

But Bob Perciasepe, the deputy administrator at the EPA from 2009 to 2014, said automakers’ opposition to the rule shows that industries sometimes favor regulations and that they can help provide certainty needed to spur innovation. 

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