Bernie Sanders presses Wheeler to confront climate ‘crisis’

Bernie Sanders presses Wheeler to confront climate ‘crisis’
© Stefani Reynolds

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (I-Vt.), a possible 2020 White House contender, on Wednesday criticized acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler for not taking climate change seriously as a crisis.

Sanders first pushed Wheeler on whether he agrees with President TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE repeatedly calling climate change a “hoax,” pointing to the Trump blaming it on the Chinese at one point.

“I believe that climate change is real. I believe that man has an impact on it,” Wheeler said during his Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing to be the official EPA administrator. “I have not used the ‘hoax’ word myself.”

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Sanders, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016 and is considering another bid in 2020, then shifted to citing scientific reports on predictions of catastrophic climate impacts and pleading with Wheeler to aggressively confront it.

“The scientific community has said that climate change is one of the great crises facing our planet. And if there is not unprecedented action to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, to sustainable energy and energy efficiency, there will be irreparable damage in the United States and virtually every country on earth,” Sanders told Wheeler.

“Do you agree with the scientific community?”

“I would not call it the greatest crisis, no sir. I consider it a huge issue that has to be addressed globally,” he responded.

Sanders further pushed Wheeler to take aggressive climate action to set an international example.

“If the leadership of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States says to China and to Russia and to India and to countries all over the world that we have got to move aggressively to protect this planet and our children and our grandchildren, we can have some impact on the entire international community,” he said.

But Wheeler only said that he is following the laws Congress wrote.

“We are implementing the laws that Congress has passed. If it passes new laws on climate change, we will implement those,” he responded.

Wheeler later said that forest management, such as forest thinning and fuels reduction, is the “biggest issue” contributing to wildfires in the West, but “there is probably some relation to climate change.”

During Wheeler’s time as acting administrator, the agency has moved forward on rolling back numerous climate change policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cars, oil and natural gas drilling and elsewhere.