Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels

Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels

National Clean Energy Week, coming up Sept. 24-28, is designed to create awareness of how clean energy is driving economic growth, creating jobs, strengthening America’s national security and preserving our environment. In the height of irony, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will speak at NCEW events and billed as a “key influencer” of clean energy.

But Wheeler is not a clean energy advocate. By helping to repeal the Clean Power Plan and propose an inadequate replacement, Wheeler snubbed an opportunity to contribute to the growth of clean energy jobs. He seems firmly committed to continuing the American addiction to fossil fuels. In his short tenure as head of EPA, he has sided again and again with dirty energy sectors over the environment.  

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As everyone who went through the gas crisis of the 1970s surely knows, fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — are sources of energy that are non-renewable and will be eventually depleted. As their supplies dwindle, they will become too expensive, difficult to retrieve and will have a drastic impact on our environment.

Renewable energy sources include solar, wind and water. In addition to not having an adverse impact on the environment, these clean energy sources are continuously replenished. Renewables’ portion of U.S. energy consumption has doubled since 2008, as coal’s share fell from 48 percent to 30 percent. Clean energy has attracted much attention and acceptance in the past 10 years as governments all over the world are embracing their responsibility to stop or slow climate change.

The science behind climate change is common knowledge.  Our activity over the last 100-plus years has been overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and climate-changing emissions, creating an atmospheric blanket, trapping greenhouse gasses and heat. The result is series of interconnected and harmful impacts, ranging from stronger, more deadly storms, to severe drought, sea level rise, and mass extinction. In the United States, about 29 percent of carbon emissions come from the electricity sector burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

Compared with fossil fuel production, typically highly automated, the clean energy industry is more labor intensive. Solar panels need humans to install them; wind farms need technicians for maintenance.

On average, clean energy creates more jobs for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.  The industry already supports many thousands of jobs in the United States. In 2016, the wind energy industry directly employed over 100,000 people full-time in manufacturing, project development, construction, installation, O&M and transportation. More than 500 U.S. production facilities provide construction materials for wind turbines.  

Until 2017, Wheeler served as a top lobbyist to Murray Energy, a large coal company. He led that company’s opposition to Obama’s efforts to cut climate change emissions. Murray’s CEO, Bob Murray, was one of President Trump's most ardent supporters. And Wheeler was Murray’s unabashed inside man for fossil fuel industries on Capitol Hill.

When Wheeler was confirmed as EPA deputy under the infamous Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOn The Money: New financial disclosures provide glimpse of Trump's wealth | Walmart, Macy's say tariffs will mean price hikes | Consumer agency says Education Department blocking student loan oversight Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses MORE, he wasted no time in meeting regularly with fossil fuel industry representatives. Upon confirmation, one of Wheeler's first calls was with Andrew Lundquist, vice president at ConocoPhillips, an oil conglomerate.

Wheeler met for breakfast in May with the National Ocean Industries Association legislative group, and included representatives from the American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America, National Association of Manufacturers, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Chemistry Council and International Association of Drilling Companies.

Further, Wheeler held firm to the Trump administration’s support of coal and its refusal to address climate change. In Wheeler’s only interview with the Washington Post regarding the science of climate change, he suggested, ridiculously, that fighting climate change by drastically reducing carbon pollution — as the Clean Power Plan does — may not actually fall under the EPA's authority. As a result, he immediately lost credibility on the issue. He came down on the opposite side of millions of citizens who have urged Trump to reinstate the Clean Power Plan, which represents our country's best shot for tackling emissions.

Instead, Wheeler is pushing Trump’s so-called Affordable Clean Energy sham that deregulates emissions’ enforcement and politicizes climate science. He would allow the further pollution of the air Americans breathe and allow the U.S. to cede control of the climate change agenda to our economic rival, China.

To be a true clean energy influencer, Wheeler should find ways of reducing pollution from our energy sources. He should tout the incredible progress being made by wind and solar across the country and explain the need for carbon emissions to fall dramatically and slow climate change. He should work with the global community to reverse Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, which was a disastrous mistake.

Wheeler has no credibility as a clean energy “influencer” after his continued brazen support of the fossil fuel industry. In choosing Wheeler, a member of the coal industry's Hall of Famethe Clean Energy Business Network hosting the coming events is tapping one of the most potent enemies of America’s conversion to renewable sources of energy.

Michael Mikulka is president of AFGE Local 704, representing EPA Region 5 workers protecting IL, IN, MI, MN, OH and WI, and spokesperson for the Save the U.S. EPA Campaign.