Now that Andrew Wheeler has made the transition from energy lobbyist to head of Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency, he has a few priorities. If his remarks at the National Press Club yesterday were any indication, changing public perceptions is near the top of his to-do list. Here's how Wheeler began his remarks:
"Since this is the National Press Club I would be remiss not to use this opportunity to address my friends in the media.
"Every year since 2001, Gallup has conducted polling on the same question do you think the quality of the environment and the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse. Every year since 2001, more people have said getting worse than getting better often by large margins. We need to fix this perception and we need the help of the press. The public needs to know how far we've come as a nation protecting the environment and here are a few environmental indicators that need to get more attention."
The former lobbyist added that American news organizations do "a disservice to the American public and sound policymaking by not informing the public of the progress this nation has made."
Wheeler concluded with a top-five list of things "the press consistently gets wrong." First up, according to the conservative EPA chief, is that "the environment is getting worse."
Wheeler's emphasis was on improvements to air quality, and on this, he's correct. Air pollution was a more serious problem in the United States in the recent past, and efforts to address pollution have been largely successful.
For those of us who breathe, that's certainly good news. It's also evidence of the kind of benefits that result from concerted governmental action.
And if Americans' environmental concerns were related solely to air quality, Trump's EPA would have reason to brag. But there's also an intensifying global climate crisis, which carries life-changing risks for billions of people.
It was not, however, the central point of Wheeler's remarks. That's probably because the Trump administration doesn't much care about climate change and routinely downplays its existence.