CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Moms from North Carolina are among those asking elected leaders to think hard about confirming Andrew Wheeler as the nation’s top environmental steward.
Kelle Pressley-Perkins lives in Charlotte, where she and her husband are raising eight children. She joined the watchdog group Moms Clean Air Force after the death of a daughter, whose health they believe was affected by elevated pollution after Hurricane Katrina. Pressley-Perkins has kept a close eye on Wheeler’s confirmation hearings, and said she isn’t convinced of his commitment to protect the environment.
“From my end, I want to know is he best fit for that position, environmental protection? Is it for us – the people, the kids, our future – or is it for business, or any other influence?” Pressley-Perkins said. “That’s basically what my interest and concern is.”
During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Wheeler said protecting human health and the environment are his most important responsibilities. He has already been on the job as acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator since his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned in July amid ethics scandals.
Wheeler said the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard passed in 2011 is too expensive, and can’t be justified as “appropriate and necessary” to make coal plants comply. But founder of Moms Clean Air Force Dominique Browning said the standard has already reduced emissions and put many plants in compliance with the rule.
“The coal industry put these scrubbers on their plants and they realized that, in fact, it didn’t cost anywhere near as much as they thought it was going to cost to put on these protections,” Browning said.
Coal ash pits are another concern. This fall, the more than 40 inches of rain dumped by hurricanes in North Carolina led to streams of industrial-waste runoff, containing coal ash and other toxins, flowing into rivers, lakes and neighborhoods.
As a nurse and a mom, Peggy Berry of Moms Clean Air Force said Wheeler’s past as a coal industry lobbyist is especially troubling with his plans to roll back the mercury-emissions standard and recalculate its potential health effects.
“For him to look at what they can do to decrease or remove that health benefit from the standard just makes me really concerned about him being administrator,” Berry said. “I’m afraid we’ve gone from oil and gas to coal.”
Despite these concerns and others, there’s a strong likelihood that, with Republicans holding a majority in the Senate, Wheeler will be confirmed as the new EPA chief.