Hear the new EPA chief Andrew Wheeler on cars, coal and climate

The Tesla Model S electric car
The Tesla Model S electric car was on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich.
Stan Honda | AFP | Getty Images 2010

The U.S. Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 28.

The host of the Commonwealth Club of California's "Climate One" series, Greg Dalton, sat down for a rare interview with the new EPA administrator to talk about cars, coal and climate. Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist. They spoke at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in San Francisco in February.

"It's not the job of the EPA, the authority of the EPA to pick winners and losers between the different fuel sources," said Wheeler about the current administration's easing of regulations on the coal industry.

"I think it's important to make sure that we have a balance of fuel sources in order to make sure that we have electric power for everyone across the country."

Wheeler also spoke about the negotiations between the federal government and a group of states led by California over the administration's revised auto emissions standards.

"California's only looking at it as one policy issue and that is energy efficiency," he says. "What we're trying to do with our proposal is bring down the cost of a new car, which would bring us down around $2,300 per car on average [which] will incentivize more people to buy newer, safer, more energy-efficient cars."

That claim is challenged by Mary Nichols, California's top air regulator. Greg also spoke with her at the Bloomberg conference, where she held a private meeting with Andrew Wheeler.

"The administration tried to use the safety argument as an excuse for why they had to roll back on emissions and fuel economy," said Nichols. "Since fuel economy improvements pretty obviously benefit consumers, they had to try to pin it on the initial cost of the vehicles. Unfortunately, there just isn't any support for this argument, and in fact, it seems that the opposite is true."

Albert Cheung, head of Global Analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, also challenges some of Andrew Wheeler's claims about cars and coal.

"I think the current administration is telling a narrative about environmental regulations and the idea that its regulations are killing the coal industry," he said. "I think what's really happening is the technology is changing but regulations are creating the environment where companies can invest for a long time to develop that technology and drive change in the markets."

Similar thoughts are expressed by Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, which works to accelerate climate action by bringing together networks of businesses and governments that shift global markets and policies.

"This is about an aggregated demand signal," Clarkson said, "and if you add the energy demand to all the companies in RE100, together you get to demand the size of the 23rd biggest country. So, that starts to be a really important demand signal to the markets."

Guests:
Andrew Wheeler, EPA Administrator. Former coal industry lobbyist.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, whose agency is leading a group of states in contesting the Trump administration's revised auto emissions rules.

Albert Cheung of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who spoke about the future of personal mobility.

Helen Clarkson of The Climate Group spoke about getting some of the world's biggest companies to commit to 100 percent renewable energy.

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