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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 WheelerBiden 'freeze' of Trump rules could halt environmental rollbacks 15 states sue EPA over decision not to tighten pollution standard for smog 13 states sue EPA over rule allowing some polluters to follow weaker emissions standards 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 TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency 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 NewsomPortland mayor pepper sprays man after confrontation at restaurant Overnight Health Care: Biden says anyone who wants vaccine may be able to get it by spring | Moderna says vaccine effective on variants, but tests booster shot | California lifts regional stay-at-home order California lifts regional stay-at-home order 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.

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“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.