Trump on Wheeler: ‘Maybe he won’t be so acting so long’

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2018

President Trump suggested today that he’s so impressed with acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s work, he might formally nominate him for the job.

“He’s acting, but he’s doing well, right?” Trump said. “So maybe he won’t be so acting so long.”

The president’s remarks came at a White House State Leadership Day Conference attended by officials from Alaska, California and Hawaii.

Trump also said he planned to sign a water infrastructure authorization bill, “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018,” later today. The sweeping legislation would authorize dredging at ports, among other infrastructure projects.

Trump said today that he was in Texas for a rally last night and that ports in that state are plagued by a lack of dredging.

“Big Oil, they can’t get ships into harbors because they can’t get permits to drain,” he said.

Trump then called out Wheeler in the crowd, asking, “Is Andrew here? Because I want to ask Andrew to get that done right away.”

Democrats in Congress have blamed the slow pace of port-dredging projects on a lack of funding. Both Republican leadership in the House and the Trump administration have been reluctant to use funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for its designated purpose, instead using it to fill shortfalls elsewhere in the budget (E&E Daily, June 7).

In fiscal 2018, the Trump administration proposed using just $965 million of the trust fund’s $9 billion balance on infrastructure (E&E Daily, March 16).

But Trump blamed the lack of port dredging on the permitting process.

“They can’t get the permits,” he said. “It’s not from us, they’ve been trying for years. But the ships have gotten much bigger and probably with the silt it’s gone up a little bit.”

The Army Corps of Engineers, not EPA, is the lead permitting agency for port-dredging projects. Those must comply with the Rivers and Harbors Act and Clean Water Act. While EPA does provide input on Clean Water Act 404 permits for dredging and filing, the Army Corps’ district offices usually have the final say.

Trump asked Wheeler today to work with the state of Texas so that “They can bring the giant ships in, fill ’em up, and they go out and it will be a tremendous difference.”

“We will sell a lot more oil,” he said. “If you could do that, Andrew — OK. He’ll get it done.”