Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler touted the benefits of fossil fuel sources like coal while calling those who support urgent climate action “oblivious” during remarks to energy industry officials on Monday.
Speaking at the industry conference CERAWeek in Houston, Texas, Wheeler told the audience that the United States produces fossil fuels in a more environmentally friendly manner than any other country. He avoided mentioning the devastating impact of burning fossil fuels, however, and criticized those calling for a Green New Deal, the popular plan to tackle climate change by rapidly decarbonizing the economy.
“What the United States offers the world in terms of energy is that our fossil fuels are extracted and produced in a more environmentally conscious manner than anywhere else in the world,” Wheeler said. “If other countries want to purchase coal on the open market, we mine our coal in a safer and more environmentally friendly manner than other nations.”
“The truth is that those who oppose U.S. fossil fuel production are actually taking the most environmentally preferable energy source off the table for the rest of the world. This is a disservice to human health and the environment,” the former coal lobbyist continued, with a nod to the agency’s mission statement, to protect human health and the environment.
Numerous recent reports, including those from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the government’s own National Climate Assessment, detail the negative effects to human health and the environment that come from human-caused climate change. From worsening air quality, asthma, and heat stress to more intense storms and sea level rise, the extraction and burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to climate change and its impacts.
It is precisely these various impacts that the Green New Deal resolution, introduced last month by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), seeks to address. The plan cites the IPCC’s findings and aims not just to rapidly expand clean energy but to zero out emissions stemming from agriculture and transport, while putting communities on the front lines of climate impacts at the center of solutions and decision making.
Wheeler, however, claimed that “supporters of the Green New Deal – or plans like it – are not only oblivious to how far we’ve come, but also where we are headed.”
Calls for climate action have grown far louder since the November midterm elections, but Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — which has strong support from youth activists — has forced lawmakers to grapple with climate change as a top political issue.
In turn, conservative opposition to the resolution has mounted alongside the growing support. Republican lawmakers, for instance, have criticized the plan as a socialist plot that will eliminate all air travel and Americans’ access to ice cream and hamburgers.
Meanwhile, longtime climate science deniers fear that the proposal will force Republican politicians to offer their own “reasonable” climate solutions such as cap-and-trade or carbon pricing.
Ignoring the numerous risks of climate change that come from burning fossil fuels, Wheeler on Monday instead promoted the administration’s “energy dominance” agenda including efforts to increase the construction of pipelines and open fossil fuel export terminals to the need to develop clean coal technologies.
“Thanks to President Trump, we are living in the golden age of American energy and environmental protection,” Wheeler concluded, failing to mention the numerous environmental protections the Trump administration has repealed. “We want the rest of the world to share in this progress.”