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Jerusalem Post: EPA chief to 'Post': U.S. 'leading by example' on environmental issues

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Jerusalem Post
By: Eytan Halon
Nov. 18, 2019

The United States is "leading by example" on environmental issues despite its planned withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, according to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday at the United States Embassy in the Israeli capital, Wheeler rejected international criticism over the withdrawal, emphasizing that US "actions speak louder than most other countries' words."

"The Paris climate accord was unfair as far as trade is concerned, and the US was penalized through the Paris climate accord," said Wheeler, who succeeded former administrator Scott Pruit in July 2018.

"That doesn’t mean that we don’t take climate change seriously, and we’re not doing a lot to reduce our CO2 emissions."

Citing decreased CO2 emissions from the US electric power sector, declining methane emissions and coal use in recent years, as well as exports of clean technologies, Wheeler said many other industrialized countries "who are criticizing us aren't making the same progress as we are making."

While Wheeler has rejected claims that climate change is a hoax, he has regularly expressed his belief that it is the lack of clean water which constitutes the most pressing environmental issue facing the world today.

Issues of access to potable water, lack of adequate water infrastructure and marine plastic debris, he said, pose major challenges to populations worldwide.

Israeli water technologies, he added, can contribute significantly to mitigating global issues.

"I think the entire world can learn a lot from Israel on the amount of water recycling that occurs here, plus the water desalinization efforts here," said Wheeler, who met on Sunday with Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin.

"There’s a lot of technology transfer, techniques, and expertise that we can work on with Israel, and learn from the things that Israel has done. It's very important, not just in the US but worldwide, because water is such a huge problem in so many developing countries."

The US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Wheeler said, was only discussed "briefly" during the meeting with Elkin, who publicly confirmed Israel's commitment to the agreement earlier this month.

"There are things where we can help the Israeli government, and there are certainly things where the Israeli government can help us. There are a lot of common problems and issues, I would like to see better coordination and exchange," said Wheeler, who will address the eighth World Water Technology and Environmental Control Conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Last year, the US and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding on environmental matters, providing for collaboration on issues including water resource management, waste management, rehabilitation of contaminated soil and technological innovation.

EPA teams have been working with Israeli colleagues to remediate contaminated soil in Nof Yam, a polluted former production and storage site of Israel Military Industries.

There is "no silver bullet for energy production," said Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist. "It is important to remember that there is no perfect source of energy. Even renewable energy has drawbacks, negative issues surrounding them."

"What I’ve pointed out is that we produce our fossil fuels in a more environmentally conscious manner in the US than most of our international competitors. We're reducing our methane on the natural gas side, I don’t think Russia is reducing their methane on natural gas production."

As public protests over environmental issues have intensified during US President Donald Trump's presidency, questions of climate change are likely to play a significant role in next year's presidential elections.

"It may be a bigger issue next year than it was in the last election, but it wasn't really an issue in the last election. If you look at polling for decades on the top 20 issues driving people at the polls, environmental issues have been consistently at the bottom," said Wheeler.

"When you dive into environmental issues and which issues you are most concerned about, climate change is fairly low as well. Clean water and clean air are usually much higher, and we have an incredible track record in this administration on clean air and clean water," he said, pointing toward the accelerated cleanup of Superfund sites over the past two years.

Questions over environmental issues, Wheeler said, have become a polarizing issue "between the Democrats and the Democrats," highlighting disagreements between Democratic presidential candidates on fracking activities, natural gas production and the proposed Green New Deal.

"In the Democratic primaries, it will be very interesting how they’re balancing the different calls for banning all natural gas production versus wanting to accelerate it," said Wheeler. "They have a lot of issues on their side, it will be interesting to see how it works out."

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