When Andrew Wheeler appeared for his confirmation hearing last month, his responses to questions from U.S. senators were disingenuous at best and often outright misleading.

This should come as no surprise since the former coal lobbyist stands with the polluters he’s supposed to oversee rather than the American people he would be charged to protect as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Following the resignation of Scott Pruitt amid ethics scandals, we had hoped that the next EPA administrator would uphold the agency’s mission: To protect public health and the environment. However, as acting administrator, Wheeler has shown that in his hands commonsense protections are in greater jeopardy than ever.

Ean Thomas Tafoya (Photo by Kevin Beaty)

That’s why the Colorado Latino Forum and other grassroots advocates oppose his nomination to become EPA administrator, and urge Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner to do the same on Tuesday.

Among the critical rules at risk are the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, also known as the MATS rule. MATS, which even industry supports, limits the amount of mercury coal-fired power plants can dump on our air.

Mercury is extremely dangerous to humans, especially babies, and research has shown there is no safe level of exposure. When ingested, it passes through the bloodstream into the placenta and then into the brain of a fetus. Once there, mercury can cause severe brain damage. In adults, even slight mercury exposure can lead to serious brain, heart, kidney, lung and immune system problems.

EPA created MATS in 2011 not just to limit mercury emissions, but also emissions of lead, arsenic, chromium and other toxic chemicals. The rule went into effect in 2012 and has been a huge success. According to the Edison Electric Institute, the owners and operators of these plants have invested more than $18 billion to adhere to MATS. Coupled with other requirements, these investments “have reduced mercury emissions by nearly 90 percent over the past decade.”

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Yet in December, Wheeler proposed to rollback MATS, using tactics that would overturn the government’s determination that regulating mercury emissions is “appropriate and necessary.” This is deeply problematic for Colorado, which has 11 coal plants and gets some 60 percent of its energy from coal.  

Like so many of Trump’s appointees, Wheeler spent his career helping big industry maximize profits, regardless of the risk to people’s health. So it is no surprise that he would like to deregulate the way power plants operate, allowing them unfettered ability to pollute our air.

But while MATS is a major concern, it is not our only worry.

If Wheeler’s appointment to the EPA is confirmed, he’d be free to attack standards that provide Americans with cars that emit fewer greenhouse gases.

He is also keen to weaken a proposed ban on methylene chloride, a lethal chemical found in paint strippers that has killed workers in Colorado. In fact, this substance is so dangerous that Lowes recently removed products with this chemical from its shelves.

Under his stewardship, EPA also scrapped a plan for an enforceable drinking water standard to manage PFAS, a class of chemicals used in Teflon pans and other fire or water repellent products. PFAS, which have polluted communities in Colorado, are linked to serious medical problems, including cancer, infertility and impaired fetal development.

Gardner supports these safeguards. He has even co-sponsored a bipartisan amendment to an appropriations bill to address PFAS water contamination near military bases.

We urge him to stand up for the health of Colorado and all Americans by voting no on Wheeler’s nomination.

Ean Thomas Tafoya is treasurer of the Colorado Latino Forum and chair of the Environmental Justice Committee. @BelieveEan

Ean Thomas Tafoya

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @BelieveEan