EPA head says media 'does a disservice' by not promoting agency's achievements

EPA head says media 'does a disservice' by not promoting agency's achievements
© Aaron Schwartz

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Dems subpoena Perry in impeachment inquiry | EPA to overhaul rules on lead contamination tests | Commerce staff wrote statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump Hundreds of former EPA officials call for House probe, say agency's focus on California is politicized EPA to overhaul rule on testing for lead contamination MORE accused the media Monday of misleading the public by not highlighting the agency’s important environmental achievements.

“The media does a disservice to the American public and sound policy making by not informing the progress we’ve made,” Wheeler said Monday at a luncheon at the National Press Club.

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Directing his comments specifically to the reporters present, Wheeler a former energy lobbyist who has overseen various regulatory rollbacks at EPA, said it was the press’ responsibility to change the public perception that energy and environment issues were getting worse, not better, across the country.

“Every year since 2001 Gallup has conducted polling on the same question: Do you think the quality of the environment in the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse? Every year since 2001 more people have said, ‘Getting worse than getting better'” Wheeler said. “We need to fix this perception and we need the help of the press. The public needs to know how far we’ve come as a nation protecting the environment.”

He spoke of the agency’s success, since its establishment nearly half a century ago, in lowering particulate matter in the air and reducing CO2 emissions, listing accomplishments achieved under multiple government administrations. The comments came as he defended his own recent decisions, made under President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE, to lower emissions standards for cars, roll back standards on mercury air pollution, and suggest a standard for perchlorate, a chemical found in rocket fuel, that is 10-50 times higher than scientists suggest.

“Pollution is on the decline,” Wheeler said. “We’ve made tremendous progress since the 1970s, and that needs to be mentioned more often.”

Wheeler, who inherited a heavy level of press skepticism due to his lobbying ties and the actions of his predecessor, Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittSierra Club sues EPA over claim that climate change 'is 50 to 75 years out' EPA on 'forever chemicals': Let them drink polluted water EPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' MORE, highlighted a list of five things – he said there was only “time” for five – the media routinely gets wrong.

“You may think I ignore our press clippings. But I don’t, I read them every day,” Wheeler told reporters. “I’ve noticed five things...that the press consistently gets wrong about this administration and the EPA in particular.”

Among them, was criticisms of his lobbying title – he represented more than just the coal industry; comments that a key Obama-era power plant emissions rule was rolled back – “It was never implemented,” he said; and the idea that the EPA is at war with its career staff – “We have a long and dedicated history of dedicated career employees,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler’s criticism of the media came the same day Trump slammed CNN and other media outlets for their coverage of his trip to England to meet Queen Elizabeth II, calling reporting “fake news.” The president went as far Monday as calling for a boycott of AT&T, the parent company of CNN, because of its coverage.

The EPA under Trump has similarly had a fraught relationship with the press. Last year, under Pruitt, a number of outlets were barred from attending a key industry meeting on a cancer-linked chemical. One reporter for the Associated Press was forcefully removed from the event.