Andrew Wheeler took over as acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency when former administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid a flurry of ethics scandals. It is no less of a scandal that Mr. Wheeler has been engaging with racist content and conspiracy theorists on social media. Whether he remembers it, or claims it was a mistake or not, Mr. Wheeler’s actions disrespect people of color and demonstrate an affinity for theories that have no scientific backing.
Like all Americans, Mr. Wheeler is free to express his personal political views. But when a public official espouses views or, through his actions, legitimizes fringe voices who propagate dangerous race or conspiracy rhetoric—he has crossed a line that should give Americans across the political spectrum pause.
Mr. Wheeler’s position is to protect public health and safety from the impacts of pollution. And those people most impacted by that pollution, most in need of a high-level effective and committed voice in government, are the poor and communities of color. There is overwhelming evidence that these communities suffer more from pollution and have long been denied public health and safety protections.
The Environmental Protection Agency—and indeed all our government agencies—are mandated to use empirical evidence to advance the public interest. Yes, they do so imperfectly. But, conspiracy theorists and racial baiting are the antithesis of any rational, fact-based approach.
As we saw with Pruitt, ideologies, values, and biases of public officials shine through in their governance. When biases flow unchecked from federal agency leaders, it reflects in their agency’s policies and actions and has lasting consequences. Racial bias is no exception.
This cannot be the norm. This administration has a long way to go to show the country that they care about all of us, not just their friends in industry, or in wealthy white communities. Mr. Wheeler has made that road even longer. Yes, he should apologize. But more importantly, he must show us all by his actions that he knows his job is to enact policies that actively protect those most impacted by pollution across the nation. Show us now.
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