New Acting EPA Head Makes Nice With Legacy Media And Agency Insiders

Chris White | Energy Reporter

Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler played nice with members of the media Wednesday during a speech reassuring agency staff that his tenure will be substantially different from his predecessor’s.

Wheeler addressed a slew of employees at EPA’s headquarters to dispel concerns of ongoing turmoil. He invited reporters from The New York Times and other legacy outlets to observe the speech, noting a point of departure from the more pugnacious former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“I do understand first-hand the stress that goes along with a change in management or a reorganization, and we are going through that change now. And I understand how stressful that can be,” Wheeler said during the talk, referring to Pruitt, who stepped down on June 5 following several investigations.

He added: “And I want you to know that I understand that and I will try to minimize the stress that you all deal with on a daily basis as employees here at the agency.” Wheeler worked nine years as a consultant at Faegre Baker Daniels, a group representing coal company Murray Energy, before being named to replace Pruitt.

Wheeler, who mostly sought to quiet concerns he would act belligerently as the new chief, went off-script to say that he was “proud” of the work he did on behalf of Murray. He served in the EPA for four years during the early 1990s and is now tasked with administering President Donald Trump’s environmental agenda. (RELATED: Pruitt Has Been Gone For Less Than A Day And His Replacement Is Already Getting Attacked)

New York Times’ reporter Eric Lipton, who came to blows several times with Pruitt during the former Oklahoma attorney general’s tenure at the EPA, suggested that Wheeler appears to be setting a different tone. Lipton was invited to watch the speech.

“His agency’s interactions with the public, and its own employees, seem to be returning to a posture more consistent with past Republican and Democratic administrations after Mr. Pruitt’s contentious and scandal-plagued tenure,” Lipton wrote in an article Wednesday, noting the change in temperament. He wrote a tweet the same day noting a hint of surprise about the invitation.

Activists are not as impressed with Wheeler. Environmental organizations Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), for one, tweeted a blog post written after the Senate confirmed Wheeler in April on why Americans should be “afraid of him.”

“Make no mistake: we’ll fight Wheeler’s pollution agenda with the same vigor as we did Pruitt’s,” NRDC tweeted.

Mary Ann Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, celebrated Pruitt’s resignation while reminding Wheeler that the environmental group has “our eye on him.”

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