Wheeler addresses water priorities at Senate confirmation hearing

Andrew Wheeler appeared before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee earlier this month for a confirmation hearing on his nomination to serve as EPA administrator. Wheeler, who President Trump formally nominated on Jan. 9 to lead the agency on a permanent basis, has served as acting administrator since former administrator Scott Pruitt resigned last July.

Wheeler, talking questions from a Senate panel, discussed the status of various ongoing regulatory efforts including the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS), the agency’s Lead Action Plan, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The agency has been working on a PFAS strategy since it concluded outreach activities last year. According to Wheeler, EPA had planned to release the strategy this week, but due to the partial government shutdown it remains in interagency review. Senators from both parties asked for assurances from Wheeler that EPA would regulate PFAS via a federal standard, but Wheeler avoided making any commitments.

Wheeler’s written statement to the committee said that under his acting leadership EPA has made safe drinking water a top priority. As one example, he noted that the agency has thus far doled out seven loans under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program, totaling over $1.5 billion and creating over 6,000 jobs. Wheeler further noted that EPA recently invited 39 additional projects to apply for another $12 billion in WIFIA loans.

Later, in response to a question from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Wheeler pledged to “absolutely” support a new Lead Service Line Replacement Grant Program that Congress created in 2016, calling it “an important part of our lead strategy.” AMWA worked with members of Congress to create that program.

Wheeler also used the hearing to tout the strides the agency has made in implementing the Trump administration’s regulatory reform agenda. His written statement explained that in 2018 “EPA finalized 13 major deregulatory actions, saving Americans roughly $1.8 billion in regulatory costs.” According to Wheeler, “EPA has finalized 33 major deregulatory actions saving Americans almost $2 billion” since President Trump took office.

The EPW Committee could vote on Wheeler’s nomination as early as February, and the GOP-led panel is expected to easily advance it to consideration before the full Senate.

Source: Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies

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