Trump EPA official: Addressing climate change 'one of many priorities'

Trump EPA official: Addressing climate change 'one of many priorities'
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A Trump administration official said Friday that addressing climate change is a “priority” for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but said it can rank behind other issues.

“I think reducing carbon emissions is important, and it’s a priority for us. It’s one of many priorities for us,” Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air, told The Guardian’s Emily Holden at a Society of Environmental Journalists event.

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Asked directly if the administration sees addressing climate change as a priority, Wehrum said, “You bet it’s a priority for us.”

But Wehrum also said that he and other administration officials weigh climate against other issues.

“Part of my job as a regulator is to be as smart as I possibly can in how we allocate resources, how we set our standards and how we require society more broadly to expend resources,” he said.

Wehrum’s boss, acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, gained attention last week when he said at a Senate hearing that climate change is “a huge issue” but not “the greatest crisis.”

On Friday, Wehrum said that he has “spent a good amount” of time reading the National Climate Assessment, the major federal report released last year that warned of dire consequences from climate change in the United States.

He added that the EPA is still trying to figure out climate change science and whether it is a “crisis,” among other scientific questions.

“I’m trying to figure that out,” he said when asked if climate change is a crisis. “Everyone is still exploring the science behind climate change.”

Wehrum, a former attorney for businesses and associations that opposed a number of environmental regulations, has overseen wide-ranging work to overturn or roll back numerous major climate policies, including the Clean Power Plan (CPP), greenhouse gas rules for cars and methane emissions rules for oil and natural gas drilling.

At Friday’s event, he specifically defended the Affordable Clean Energy rule, the EPA’s proposal to replace the Clean Power Plan with much weaker standards for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

He said analyses that show smaller emissions reductions than the Clean Power Plan are unfair.

“The reality is the CPP has not been implemented, it is not effective at all,” he said.

“And because of the Supreme Court’s stay, has not been implemented at all pending litigation … there is no basis for comparison to CPP.”

Even so, Wehrum said he is confident that the final version of the replacement rule will result in emissions reductions similar to the CPP. “They’re going to look a lot alike,” he said.