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Montana Groups React To Incoming EPA Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Courtesy EPA

Thursday’s resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt draws decidedly different reactions from Montanans. And the man who will take Pruitt’s place is proving to be just as divisive.Thursday’s sudden resignation of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt came as welcome news to Billings resident Becky Mitchell.
“Time and time again, he [Pruitt] sided with corporate polluters to the detriment of our air, land and water,” she says.

Mitchell, chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council pans Pruitt’s legacy at EPA.

“He eliminated limits on over 200 pollutants that would affect our health and our air quality. Taking the word ‘climate change’ off [EPA’s] website, and just enabling fossil fuel companies to dictate policy.”

Shelby DeMars, spokeswoman for Count on Coal Montana, has a completely different take on Pruitt’s legacy.
“He started the ball rolling in the right direction in terms of peeling back some of the regulations that we saw the Obama administration put in place that were punitive towards fossil fuels, certainly towards the coal industry,” DeMars says.

Former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler takes over as acting head of EPA on Monday.

According to the Associated Press, Wheeler has consistently downplayed the role that the use of fossil fuels plays in climate change.

Northern Plains chair Becky Mitchell is not optimistic about Wheeler’s prospects at EPA, saying she fears he will continue to roll back environmental protections.

“Unlike Pruitt, I think that he is a D.C insider who might even be more dangerous if he understands the levers of power, and is probably smart enough to avoid the ethical scandals that Pruitt brought on himself.” 

Resource development and decreasing emissions are not mutually exclusive, according to Count on Coal Montana’s Shelby DeMars.

“Our hope is that Wheeler will continue the successful regulatory reform process that has begun under Pruitt, and that the EPA can create the regulatory certainty that our utility industry needs to invest in long term emission reduction technology,” she says.

In his appearance before a Senate committee last November, Wheeler pledged to recuse himself from any EPA decision-making that conflicted with his work for coal companies or other industries.

Wheeler – who worked at the EPA in the early 1990’s, dealing with toxic substances, public disclosures of environmental risks, among other issues - promised public transparency during his committee hearing, saying, “I think that when we make informed decisions and we explain to the public why we are making the decision, that is paramount to what we do at the agency.”

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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