This post was updated on 8/16/18.
Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave an exclusive interview to Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn -- and used the opportunity to push deceptive talking points about auto-efficiency rules. The interview was released in three parts, each of which is a “must-run” segment for more than 100 local TV news stations that Sinclair owns and operates around the U.S. Sinclair has a strong right-wing bent, and Epshteyn, a former Trump aide, is a consistent apologist for the president and his administration.
This appears to be the first TV interview Wheeler has granted since assuming the top spot at EPA on July 9. Wheeler has given a number of interviews to newspapers and wire services in the last six weeks, mostly to mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, USA Today, and Bloomberg. But with this interview, Wheeler is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who frequently turned to right-wing media to push Trump administration talking points. Pruitt gave an interview to Sinclair's Epshteyn in May, at a time when Pruitt was dogged by scandals and therefore avoiding mainstream media outlets.
Media Matters has chronicled Sinclair’s aggressive approach to promoting its conservative agenda, which includes forcing local stations to air “must-run” segments. Like other conservative media outlets, Sinclair has given cover to Trump and provided his allies and administration officials with a platform to spread White House propaganda. Trump, in turn, has defended Sinclair. The president recently bashed the Federal Communications Commission for slowing Sinclair's now-scuttled acquisition of Tribune Media Company, tweeting that a merger “would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.”
As usual, Epshteyn asked no tough questions in his interview with Wheeler. Instead, in the first part of the interview, he allowed the EPA chief to push the debunked notion that more fuel-efficient cars are dangerous. Wheeler claimed that the Trump administration's proposal to weaken auto fuel-efficiency standards would “save over a thousand lives a year.” In fact, recent research has found that strengthening auto standards can actually improve road safety and save lives.
In the second part of the interview, Wheeler described his background and talked up the EPA's work with states. In the third part, Wheeler argued in vague terms that there's a need to revisit some decades-old regulations, and Epshteyn praised the agency's efforts to “get rid of the unnecessary, stifling regulations.” In neither the second nor third parts did Wheeler or Epshteyn mention any of the controversial issues now facing the agency.
From Sinclair's “Bottom Line with Boris,” here is part one of the interview, released on August 13:
BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that they're proposing freezing certain emissions standards at 2020 levels until 2026. I spoke to the acting administrator of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, about the rationale behind that proposal. Here's what he told me.
ANDREW WHEELER (ACTING EPA ADMINISTRATOR): Well, we looked at a lot of data when we worked with our partners over at Department of Transportation, and we believe by freezing those for five years we'll save over a thousand lives a year and save the American consumer $500 billion over the course of the regulation. So this is really an important regulation, important standard, for the American consumer, and we really anticipate more new cars will be sold because the prices will be slightly lower, and when new cars are sold they're safer and they're cleaner for the environment.
EPSHTEYN: And there's now a comment period in place. What is the process for actually freezing the standards?
WHEELER: Well, you're right, we are taking comments, we're taking comments from our proposal which is freezing the standard for five years. It’s also important to remember that the standards will continue to get tighter between now and 2021, and then they'll freeze. We're taking comments on that all the way up to the Obama proposal, and seven or eight steps in between. So we want the American public to comment on this. We want to hear from industry, the states, the environmental organizations. We want to make sure that the rule that we go final with at the end of the process is the best rule for all Americans.
EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The EPA's proposed freeze on emissions standards is a common-sense solution to a complex problem. It will both save billions of dollars, and more importantly, save lives.
Here is part two of the interview, released on August 14:
EPSHTEYN: Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has taken the reins at the EPA. He is also a top contender to become the permanent administrator. I spoke to him about his qualifications and experience. Here's what he said.
WHEELER: I started my career here at the EPA as a career employee, and so I worked with -- a lot of the employees that I worked with, they're still here, and that has really helped me because I understand the mission of the agency. I understand what we're trying to do here, and I think the experience that I had working on Capitol Hill and at the United States Senate, as well in private practice, has really given me a very well-rounded background to help me as the acting administrator.
EPSHTEYN: You began your career at the EPA. You're now leading the agency over 20 years later. How has the agency changed in that time?
WHEELER: Well, probably the biggest change is that we're working more with the states and local governments. In the last 25-plus years, we've gone from operating the entire permit program for all the water and air permits, to delegating most of those to the states. Right now, 96 percent of our water permits are done by the states. So we're working more collaboratively and cooperatively with our state partners, and those are the people on the ground that are, you know, they live among the areas where they're issuing the permits. I think that's really a good thing for the environment and for the country.
EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The EPA is in good hands with Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at the helm. He is going to do all he can to continue achieving the administration's goals.
Here is part three of the interview, released on August 16:
EPSHTEYN: In the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has two missions. One, to get rid of unnecessary regulations; two, to make sure that our environment is clean and safe. I spoke to acting administrator of the EPA Andrew Wheeler about how they balance those two priorities. Here’s what he told me:
WHEELER: Some of our regulations have been on the books 30, 40-plus years. And what we need to make sure is that some of those regulations aren’t actually causing a negative impact on the environment because some of them, sometimes, inhibits people from installing cleaner technologies. So what we want to do is make sure we have a common-sense approach to make sure the people can install the cleanest technologies possible. To make sure that the air and the water continue to get better. It’s -- I would say it's more, making sure that we’re doing the right thing and the smart thing. When we look at a standard, when we look at cleaning up a Superfund site for example, we’re trying to get rid of the attorneys that have been slowing down the process and getting the sites cleaned up faster, so we can get sites more productive use for the American public.
EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The Trump administration and the EPA specifically are working hard to thread the needle, and make sure that they get rid of the unnecessary, stifling regulations while also ensuring that we live in a safe and clean environment.