EPA head dodges questions about environmental action against San Francisco

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — American Clean Power — Supreme Court to review power plant rule case EPA to consider tighter air quality standards for smog Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels MORE dodged questions about any agency plans to bring enforcement against San Francisco, a day after President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE derided pollution and homelessness in the city and promised a notice “very soon.”

“I’m not going to comment on a potential enforcement action that we may or may not take. It’s inappropriate for me to do so,” Wheeler told reporters following a congressional hearing Thursday.

Flying back from California Wednesday night, Trump said he expected the EPA to slap San Francisco with a violation notice in the coming days related to pollution associated with the city’s homeless population.

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“There’s tremendous pollution being put into the ocean because they’re going through what’s called the storm sewer that’s for rainwater,” Trump said. “And we have tremendous things that we don’t have to discuss pouring into the ocean. You know there are needles, there are other things.”

He continued: “It’s a terrible situation that’s in Los Angeles and in San Francisco. And we’re going to be giving San Francisco, they’re in total violation, we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon.”

Asked what jurisdiction EPA had with San Francisco’s homeless population, Wheeler said any actions that might be taken would involve regulatory authority under the Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water Acts for the disposal of water and waste going into the sewer systems.

He said that last week the EPA had sent a few staff members out to California “to look at some of the issues and the problems,” in various California communities. But he said the agency has not “taken any official steps yet.”

“There are a number of permits involved. We’re taking a look into whether permits were in violation,” he said, adding that the focus was not specifically on San Francisco or California.

“I don’t want to speak with any specificity to any particular city at this point,” Wheeler said. “We don’t look at any one particular city or state.”

Asked why Trump mentioned San Francisco by name, Wheeler said he believed it was because Trump was in California this week. 

At the hearing, Rep. Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterCongress's role in the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal Overnight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban We must address the declining rate of startup business launches MORE (D-Ill.) asked about the typical operating procedure for when a president requests EPA enforcement actions be taken.

“When the president said it was coming this week, is it routine for you to issue notices of violation, whatever that means, with less than one week of preparatory work?” Foster asked Wheeler.

Wheeler said he didn’t “see” that Trump said it was occurring this week.

“So you are saying there was no preliminary finding ... How was San Francisco chosen?” Foster asked.

Wheeler said he couldn’t comment on his conversations with the president.