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Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler Testifies before Senate


On January 9, Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). Wheeler was confirmed as the EPA’s deputy administrator in April but was promoted to acting administrator after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned last July. At the hearing, Wheeler was grilled by Democrats on the panel who believed he was committed to furthering President Trump’s deregulatory agenda by rolling back certain environmental protections and undoing many Obama-era regulations. However, Wheeler defended the agenda, saying, “Through our regulatory actions, the Trump administration has proven that burdensome federal regulations are not necessary to drive environmental progress.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who plans to run for president in 2020, pushed Wheeler on the issue of climate change. Wheeler told Sen. Sanders that he believes climate change is “a huge issue that must be addressed globally,” but said that he “would not call it the greatest crisis” of our time. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) pressed Wheeler further on climate change, asking him to rate climate change on a scale of one to ten based on severity, to which Wheeler replied an “8 or 9.” 

During the hearing, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) revealed that he had recently been told that, as part of their final rule, the EPA and Department of Transportation (DOT) are planning to impose a 0.5 percent annual increase in stringency on corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards starting in 2021. Originally, in the proposed rule, CAFE standards and corresponding greenhouse gas standards would have been frozen at 2020 levels. Wheeler did not comment about specifics of the upcoming final rule but did say that he has been working with states that have more stringent CAFE standards, like California, to strike a deal. In October, PMAA submitted comments to the EPA expressing support for the EPA and DOT proposed rule. Click here to read the comments.

Acting Administrator Wheeler also touched on several issues pertaining to ethanol. He stated that the ongoing government shutdown could impact the Trump Administration’s proposal to allow E15 sales year-round. When pressed by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Wheeler said that EPA “can only work on court-ordered deadlines or emergencies” during the shutdown and that the proposal may be delayed but said it should go into effect by the summer driving season provided the government shutdown ends in a reasonable amount of time. 

Wheeler also addressed some lawmakers’ concerns with the granting of small refinery RFS waivers to large oil companies by the Trump Administration. Wheeler defended the exemptions saying, “Often times these refineries are located in the Rocky Mountains and other regions where they are the only supplier in their region. We have to issue these regulations on the refiner itself." Although many ethanol producers believe that larger refineries should blend more ethanol to make up for the gallons lost due to the exemptions, Wheeler said that doing so could have "a rolling impact on other refiners” and could lead to more RFS waivers. Some biofuel groups argue that the waivers have indirectly reduced the ethanol mandate which have driven down RIN values and, as a consequence, weakened the market for E15.

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