Meet the New EPA Boss, Not the Same as the Old Boss

Andrew Wheeler 031519

The Environmental Protection Agency has been through many political and administrative changes over the years.

Along with it, the agency has received some flak from farmers about potential controversial waterway rules like Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Then, there’s an argument across farm country about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). It’s a standard which now has oversight under the EPA when it comes to the amount of biofuels blended, Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS) and potential waivers to oil companies. In addition, the agency had its share of turnover.

Now, the EPA has a new boss, Andrew Wheeler. He was the Acting Administrator when Former Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid a cloud of ethics scandals. During a one-on-one interview with AgDay host Clinton Griffiths, Wheeler says the EPA wants to have a closer relationship and open up the conversation with farmers.

“I think the country knows that farmers are the first line of environmental protection,” says Wheeler. “There’s no reason for the EPA and the farming agricultural community not to work closer together.”

The Ohio native transplanted to Washington D.C. 30 years ago. Though, he’s not shy to share his family has some background in agriculture as he says his relatives are originally from West Virginia.  He came into the role of EPA Administrator as the agency was in the middle of re-writing the controversial water WOTUS rules. It’s something he was familiar with from day one.

“When I was in private practice before I joined the agency, I represented a farmer from Indiana and a brother [who were] having problems with Waters of the U.S. and the Obama regulation,” Wheeler explains. 

Wheeler says his new goal for the rule is simple.

“Our overarching principle in drafting this new proposal for Waters of the U.S. was that any land owner could stand on his or her property and figure out for themselves based on the definition what is and is not a federal waterway without having to hire an outside consultant or attorney,” says Wheeler. “It’s important to me that we provide that certainty.”

Wheeler goes on to explain how farmers are the stewards of the land and how that point needs to be recognized on a governmental level, even at the EPA.

“We need to work with the farmers and not work against them,” says Wheeler. “Every farmer I ever met cares about the environment. We need to understand and recognize that when we move forward with proposals.”

The new WOTUS proposal is in the middle of a comment period. Wheeler says the goal is to have the final regulation out by the end of the year. He promises new rules are different, with a goal to provide more clarity with what is a waterway and what is not. 

“The best example is ditches. If it is a ditch that is influenced by the tides, then that would remain a federal waterway,” says Wheeler. “If it’s an agriculture ditch [or a farm ditch then] it’s out. It’s no longer a federal waterway.”

What else is Wheeler working on? He says planning for the future.

“We have a challenge before us where 40 percent of our workforce is eligible to retire over the next five years,” says Wheeler.

“I’m working very closely with our career and human resources people to make sure we are planning for a workforce for the future.” 

Wheeler says he’s not going to judge how successful the EPA is under his leadership until he is out of office. He wants to see how many programs have stayed and how many are still in effect as well.