EPA chief Andrew Wheeler sits down with ABC News

The EPA has launched its first national action plan to continue cleaning up toxic chemicals around the country.
13:34 | 02/13/19

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Transcript for EPA chief Andrew Wheeler sits down with ABC News
Everyone I'm Devin Dwyer you're watching ABC news laboratory now by the acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler circuit thank you for having us here at the EPA history to meet you. So you've invited us here today because you are making a big announcement about taking on too toxic nonstick chemicals most Americans. Are probably familiar with the tape probably don't know it. They're called. In drinking water sixteen million Americans at least affected the CDC says there's a pretty harmful health effects from the chemicals. Cop how dangerous is the situation right now in your view with these chemicals. Well we we do consider to be a very important threat and that's where removing quickly on this. You know we started last may with a big I'm listening session here we brought in over forty states to hear about what the problems were what they were again and encountering around the country to make sure that we were addressing the concerns that they had to clean up the water systems where this is where this is a current. So that the CDC your report was just came out said that key facts. It's associated with pregnancy induced hypertension liver damage thyroid disease. Decreased fertility increased risks of asthma and testicular kidney cancer. It's pretty serious it is surged. That's why removing four with this action plan and this is and really groundbreaking action plan by the agency. On this the first time we've ever taking ate crow across media approach of all of our media offices to address a chemical of concern. It were were rolling out this action plan. To clean up the thesaurus on the country but we also want to make sure that people know that we already have been cleaning up a number of these we've we've done a enforcement actions along. Under existing authorities are removing Ford two to create new authorities are safe drinking water act. Removing Fortis said new regulations also caught it and CL accident containment level. I don't ask you about that. Do you think that's enough that some some critics. Of the EPA have said that that this sort of downplaying the agency is downplaying the threat from. From the chemicals and that you need to sort of more urgently. Sat in and CEO as you say which is sort of a rule writes a regulation for water systems across the country that they cannot have. Well we already have a health advisory on the books and were using that and force today and while we're enforcing that removing four additional authorities were moving forward with. The MCL. The rate in us history to what Iraq we're also moving forward under certain program the Superfund program to set it as a hazardous substance right side that ups the have to clean it up we're monitoring. Where he chemicals are occurring. You know we we know where the chemicals are manufactured in Reno a lobby areas where they're actually used who were born into those communities to see. Whether or not the water in those communities are contaminated but this is a guy again this is we haven't slowed down we've actually speeded up the process. We're concerned research for example we want to make sure that we have the best cleanup technologies. That we understand better that the health impacts on people. It and that we can move forward but we have been cleaning up. We've been helping and assisting the states around the country dozens of sites around the country were making sure that those are cleaned up. In removing forth additional authorities under all of our statutes in this is the first multi media approach and the agency's 49 year history that we've ever taken for temple actress. It is a big deal there hasn't been a regulation of or drinking water chemical since I think 1996. You think ultimately you're taking a big step today that there need to be national testing requirements there need to be. Tighter regulations for every water district in the country eventually and is that what you wanna see. Would we will we're certainly moving that direction with the emcee elf does that were required testing it before even set him CL. We're requiring additional monitoring as well so were working with the local governments were working with the states. In addition to the big this concession it did last may with over forty states we went out around the country eight different locations. Met with and communities were it's a problem and talked to local people and and try to make sure that we understood what the fears were that they had so we can better communicate to them. What the process is what we're doing and how we're helping them. As you know us senate minority leader Chuck Schumer a Democrat has threatened to block. Out your confirmation over this very issue over these chemicals. What do you say to that which he his his statements said because we weren't moving for birth regulating this and we are ruined fort. I get some yes some wrong information about what we're doing. And so was the plank as were unveiling the plan. We're we're moving forward with its safety orders regulation standards in jail standards. He'd criticizes actually talking about. Trade press article few weeks of those and we weren't doing this. But we are in the middle of our interagency review across entire federal government and we can't comment during that process seat and now we're announcing today actually meets the standard. Yes and you know and I and I credit senator capital from West Virginia a sit down with her along conversations went pressure be very direct and what we're doing. And that's what we're government for repeat themselves standard I. I want to ask you about climate change which is a hot topic right now during your confirmation hearing a couple weeks ago senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon Democrat asked you. Opt to rate your level of concern about climate change and scale of one to ten you gave it an eight or nine. This is says it fair to see you don't think it's a crisis jewels and don't think it's hoax. Yes I think that's fair with them and were moving forward we are dressing. Climate change CO2 under our utility propose or -- regulation we're also addressed now under the cafe standards for automobiles. Weird weird using the tools that congress gave us to press CO2 climate change in removing forum multiple. A huge issue you've said the president has repeatedly. Sort of cast aspersions on this idea that. Global warming as it is a man made problem you'd be having conversations with him about that it is he simply trolling his enemies or does he talk this way. In private and corporate books worth. I think who were present for up. In particular referring to was that the media coverage of the of the climate assessment that came out in the fact that the media focused on the worst case scenario. And it's a few other aspects that really weren't and that report. But that we are moving forward on CO2 removing for a class action. Asked about that report. Have you read yes. You did read it it does conclude that the evidence of human caused climate change is overwhelming continues to strengthen the impacts of climate change intensify and across the country it says that. Some of those impacts have harmed the physical social and economic well being. Of Americans is is that something you should have embraced and agree with an end in what do you think you'd do you need to do about it. Personally we get some some of the conclusions were based on the worst case scenario. And yeah that worst case scenarios the the RCP eight point five has actually been. Done away with by the UN they're not there are no longer reliant on the worst case scenario. And so I'm I'm trying to take the report as a whole I've had briefings by my career staff here at the agency which depend upon. Excuse me and we're. What's important Morgan wants you to inclement changes were following the laws of congress has passed. In our proposal for example for the utilities sector once it's fully implement it will reduce CO2 emissions by 33%. Over the life of that regulation. And you your agency has actually just put out a report which found that in the first year the trump administration some CO2 levels in the country actually came down. It's a little bit to your point. But speaking of legislation I would do and ask you but democrats' proposal in the past week there's been a lot of talk about a green new deal. Setting a target for zero net emissions in this country by 2030 very ambitious. Bob. He's is that is that it is that an aspiration you can support do you think we need to be driving towards a reduction in emissions. I've read the arm resolution that they put out also read the fact sheet that they later disavowed. Say the department rollout was not really ready for prime time. But I am concerned. That they don't really seem to value. As a stable electricity. Source. Grid reliability and for health and inhuman for the few human health and the environment here at the agency after very concerned about that because its electricity system that supplies. Our drinking water system that runs it with we need to make sure that we have a reliable safe. Electricity supply for republic capture a lot of guys that we do here and you don't really see that. Unita are alive the right to seize center addressed in there and they're in their liberty deal there needs to be. EA a forward looking forward leaning vision for the country for for energy sources and do you see now I need Cole is gonna disappear someday. I'm do you see you need to to drive towards some renewable sources and and is that something that you would support will. Long we certainly support all. Sources of energy and I support wind and solar. Coal oil natural gas we need all of it. Nuclear in particular I believe that green new deal discounts nuclear. Tennessee has it certainly clean energy source. But did seem to discount the need to have grid reliability. And safe secure electricity supply. And that is Paramount to human health you know when when we go into an emergency response after hurricane when the first things we want to make sure is that the electric system gets up and running. So that we can continue to provide safe drinking water. To the American public impacted by those disasters. And so you know the fact that they don't really count that as as a societal. Benefit or need concerns. This isn't your first run and EPA you've actually. Started your career here as a lawyer 25 years ago we're just talking as a career. As a career lawyer EPA's serve some time under the Clinton instruction. Of all things but you've also spent a good bit of time lobbying for the energy industry in the private sector before coming here your critics say. You've been a little bit too cozy. They say that used sort of there are beholden to some of these interest how can you regulate in industry that employed you to fight regulations. What I was had a lot of different clients I have over twenty different energy and environment clients of course the eight years and it was a private practice but I also spent. Fourteen years working in the United States as a staff director for the senate environment. And public works committee. And so in I've I've looked at the issues from a number different angles I really believe my experience helps me be a better administrator here at the agency. You said in fact you have no more important responsibility protecting human health and the environment he said it here confirmation hearing that you. I'll also prioritize to roll back of regulations. A deregulation. Philosophy if you will that's sort of part and parcel of the truck administration how do you reconcile that philosophy with. The power that you have as the EPA administrator to protect human health human life some the most vulnerable communities do you. Do you grapple with that there's a person do you. You should think about that power and ability to regulate and lock things down while also which. Well when it counts when president trump called me and asked me be the acting administrator. He said continue to clean up here continue to clean up the water and continued to deregulate and ordered create more jobs for the American public. He knows we can do all three I know we can do all three and we have shown that over the last 49 years of the agency's history. You know the frontier airplanes since 1970s have decreased 73%. Most people don't realize that in a lot of people media don't don't tout the benefits of of all the regulations we've had and won what we're doing to provide clean air. And what we're doing it you know with this new management plan for. Americans drinking water which is very important and need to make sure that every American regardless as a code. As safe reliable drinking more. And in again go back to return or at the beginning to feel comparable with the degree of urgency or lack thereof that you're bringing to that. He Foss challenge where I think we are bring in an urgency to it. Because I'm we've been enforcing we've you know war we're working on the management and we went forward with toxicity values for two of the substances. We also move forward on to Kern and hazardous substance we haven't slowed down effect we've accelerated our response. That did that if you look back to having the that task force meeting last may. Take coming out with a plan now that's very fast for the agency and the fact that we involved all of our program offices as the first time for chemical of concern like this. We've had all corporate offices of the agency working on the management and address for the American cute too quick question before I let you go you're an. Eagle scout your self described conservationist. Where you see your your legacy at the at the agency where is the environment can be enhanced. When you leave. Leave office. I hope. And and then to spit that we would be a cleaner environment than than I've than we found it. And were also take where some that they then unnecessary regulations that hamper job growth and creativity here in the country. You know perfect example we're moving forward on new regulations for heavy duty truck I'm diesel trucks. Of the same time we're gonna take off a few of the old guy dances and regulations 3040 years old there are no longer necessary. Perot have a tighter standard American public to make sure that we have cleaner. Enter Wheeler acting administrator of the EPA thanks for having us as they appreciate your time very much. I'm Devin Dwyer of Washington you're watching ABC news lot.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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