EPA head questions connection of climate change to natural disasters

EPA head questions connection of climate change to natural disasters
© Bonnie Cash

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Former EPA chief to chair pro-Trump think tank's environmental center Lobbying world MORE said on Tuesday that there is “scientific debate” on whether hurricanes and other natural disasters are exacerbated by climate change.

In an interview with Cheddar, Wheeler said he believes in climate change but hesitated when asked if it was connected to extreme weather events.

“You have to look at some of the causes. For example the wildfires out West, I do believe most of it is forest management issues. Because you don't have the same problems in other parts of the country where they have better forest management issues when they have prescribed burns, and they're able to take care of the dead trees and so forth in the forest. And with the prescribed burns — it’s very important. California has greatly limited those over the years,” Wheeler said.

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President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE has repeatedly blamed forest management for California’s fire problems, including telling state leaders they need to rake the forest floor to clear brush.

But California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia faces flash flood watches amid 'Bomb Cyclone' and 'Atmospheric River' Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Ivory poaching changes evolution of elephants California regulator proposes ban on oil drilling near schools, hospitals, homes MORE (D) has blamed an “unprecedented confluence of issues,” including hot, dry weather and years of drought followed by severe lightning storms. 

“This is a climate damn emergency,” Newsom said earlier this month while surveying damage in Northern California.

“The debate is over on climate change,” Newsom added. “Just come to the state of California.”

Wheeler in the new interview also questioned climate change’s impact on hurricanes.

“You know there's a lot of scientific debate on the hurricanes, the number of large hurricanes have actually decreased over the last 40 to 50 years. The intensity of some of the hurricanes that we're seeing is increasing. So we need to take a closer look at that; that's not really within EPA purview,” he said, adding that the agency is focused on reducing emissions.

Wheeler on Monday claimed the agency has finalized numerous regulations that have reduced emissions, but he was quickly criticized by former EPA administrators who said he is focused on deregulation at the expense of human health and the environment. 

A report last week from the Rhodium Group found that rollbacks put forth by the Trump administration could cause the release of an extra 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.