EPA chief to visit Costa Rica as administration winds down

With just weeks left in office, Wheeler plans official trip to discuss environmental issues.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing in May. (Al Drago/Bloomberg/POOL)
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing in May. (Al Drago/Bloomberg/POOL)
Posted January 7, 2021 at 6:00am

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler is headed to Costa Rica for an official visit less than two weeks before the end of the Trump administration.

“Administrator Wheeler will speak at a roundtable hosted by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), with representatives from the private sector in Costa Rica on ways to work together to protect the global food supply,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt said in a statement Wednesday.

Wheeler scrapped a trip to Taiwan after a New York Times report that included criticisms about the cost of the travel involved. In that article, the newspaper also quoted anonymous aides who said they’d been instructed to also plan January visits to Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

During the upcoming trip to Costa Rica, Hewitt said, Wheeler has scheduled meetings with the vice minister for environment and vice minister for water and oceans at the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

“The conversation will focus on marine litter, including best practices to manage solid waste,” Hewitt said. “The mission will also include site visits and meetings with private sector and non-governmental organizations to learn more about their actions promoting environmental protection in Costa Rica.”

Hewitt did not immediately respond to questions about the estimated cost of Wheeler’s upcoming travel.

The Costa Rica trip comes in the midst of a global pandemic, noted Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog organization.

“You would think that any travel would be limited to only essential travel and this looks like nothing but a boondoggle,” she said.

She questioned why his meetings with officials there could not be conducted via teleconference in light of public health risks from the pandemic.

“Everybody else is doing it,” she said of using Zoom or other services.

There’s nothing illegal about government officials traveling for official business, of course.

Canter, however, questioned what essential business could be involved given the impending end of the administration. She suggested Wheeler would be better served focusing on the transition to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Announcing the EPA’s new “transparency” rule earlier this week, Wheeler said the agency has already conducted more than 50 briefings for the Biden transition team.