Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler believes the threat posed by climate change is “50 to 75 years out” compared to more immediate issues like access to clean drinking water.
Wheeler, who was confirmed to his position last month, told CBS’s Major Garrett in an interview that aired Wednesday that contaminated drinking water was a higher-priority, immediate environmental threat than climate change.
“We have 1,000 children die everyday worldwide because they don't have safe drinking water,” Wheeler told Garrett. “That's a crisis that I think we can solve. We know what goes into solving a crisis like that. It takes resources, it takes infrastructure, and the United States is working on that.”
Wheeler called climate change “an important change we have to be addressing and we are addressing,” but said most of its most drastic effects are decades away compared to unsafe drinking water, which is killing people now.
Wheeler’s assertions contradict a major report issued in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicted atmospheric warming will reach 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit around 2040. The same report warned that countries had about 12 years to stop greenhouse gas contributions or face irreversible effects of climate change. The White House has dismissed the report as depicting a worst-case scenario, with President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE telling reports at the time that the U.S. is “the cleanest we’ve ever been” in terms of emissions.
Advocates of more drastic environmental action also pointed to extreme weather events in order to argue for action on climate change. A recent example is the cyclone that may have killed more than 1,000 people in Mozambique or the catastrophic flood damage reported in the midwest.
Separately, a Gallup poll released Tuesday found one-third of respondents blame climate change for colder temperatures this winter as well as hotter temperatures in the summer.
Wheeler argued that the United States has cut carbon dioxide emissions by 14 percent since 2005 and is “doing much better than most westernized countries on reducing their CO2 emissions, but what we need to do is make sure that the whole world is focused on the people who are dying today, the thousand children that die everyday from lack of drinking water.”
Many of the carbon emission reductions Wheeler pointed to took place under the Obama administration, and emissions were projected to rise slightly for 2018 and flatline in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said last week that supporters of the Green New Deal, which calls for a transition of the nation’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, were “oblivious to how far we’ve come” and called the proposals “dangerous for the economy and national security.”