EPA head accuses reporters, green group of 'colluding' on press coverage

EPA head accuses reporters, green group of 'colluding' on press coverage
© Aaron Schwartz

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Critics worry Trump ignoring plight of honeybees | EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Wheeler | Green groups team up to host presidential climate summit EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Admin. Wheeler Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule MORE is accusing two media outlets of “colluding” with a top environmental group following a tweet criticizing his earlier remarks.

Speaking to a panel of scientists and industry representatives Wednesday, Wheeler went off script to “caution” the experts to be wary of what they read in the media.

“I did a speech on Monday at the National Press Club. Things that I said — well, actually I didn’t even say it. A reporter for Yahoo News put out a tweet with a made-up quote attributed to me,” Wheeler told the audience.

Wheeler was referencing a tweet by Alexander Nazaryan, a national correspondent for Yahoo News, who was in attendance at the Monday meeting.

Wheeler’s speech earlier in the week chastised reporters for failing to report on the “positive” aspects of EPA’s environmental regulation achievements. The administrator made the comments before being pelted with questions about recent regulatory rollbacks done under President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE having to do with methane, carbon and car emissions.

The Yahoo News reporter tweeted: “‘The media does a disservice to the American public’ by reporting on global warming, says EPA head Andrew Wheeler. Wants more positive coverage.”

The tweet was later retweeted and commented on by two New York Times employees as well as the Sierra Club. Wheeler and the EPA have said the tweet insinuates incorrectly that his comments were about climate change.

“The quote was then later retweeted by two reporters by The New York Times. That tweet was then used by a fundraising mechanism by the Sierra Club, which makes me wonder if those reporters were colluding with the Sierra Club for fundraising purposes,” Wheeler said.

The Sierra Club promptly hit back at Wheeler's comment on Wednesday.

“A former coal lobbyist working for Trump and regularly meeting with and doing the bidding of fossil fuel executives fits the very definition of collusion. Meeting with auto execs before rolling back fuel economy standards or taking direction from your former coal exec boss before rolling back the Clean Power Plan is collusion," Sierra Club Resist Campaign Director Maura Cowley said in a statement to The Hill. 

"When lives are at stake, our country cannot afford to have an EPA administrator in cahoots with corporate polluters who makes baseless accusations to cover up that reality."

Wheeler’s comments came a day after the EPA’s press department sent an email blast to reporters challenging the accuracy of Nazaryan’s tweet. The blunt email sent Tuesday, labeled “media fact check,” alleged that “Yahoo News decided to deliberately spread false information on twitter by misreporting Administrator Wheeler's comments.”

“Not once in his speech, did Administrator Wheeler call on ignoring global warming,” the EPA email read. “This false tweet was aggregated by reporters from the New York Times who failed to fact check the tweet for its veracity, but rather used the inaccurate information to advance on their own narrative.”

Responding to Wheeler’s comments Wednesday, Nazaryan tweeted “No collusion!!!”

One of the New York Times reporters referenced in EPA's email, tweeted a clarification Wednesday that acknowledged that the re-tweet did not include Wheeler's full statement.

"His full statement after listing stats on enviro progress was, " my purpose in doing this is not to minimize the environmental challenges or threats that we face today...." the reporter wrote.

Wheeler's remarks against the reporters Wednesday came as he was addressing the first meeting of the latest EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB). The board was largely dismantled under former EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittSenior Trump administration official to leave post next week For Big Pharma, the revolving door keeps spinning Acosta defends Epstein deal, bucking calls for resignation MORE, who argued it was slanted in the direction of scientists and needed to include industry voices. The action was largely panned by the science community as a stunt to suppress inconvenient scientific studies.

One of the EPA rules the SAB is currently considering has to do with science transparency, a rule that would restrict EPA from using scientific studies that do not include details on where the findings come from and how they are determined. The scientific community has also blasted the plan as uncommon and a barrier to those studies that rely on personal, private information. Critics argue it will make it easier for EPA to pass over science that may call for more stringent environmental regulations.

Wheeler said the advisory process had been "broken" but was positive that could change.

"Science is the foundation of everything the agency does. There may be disagreements on the policy decisions but those policy decisions are still grounded in the science," Wheeler told the board members Wednesday. "Your role is to give the best scientific advice."