Protestors stood outside the Cambridge Union this eveningHassan Raja

This evening, Extinction Rebellion protested the appearance of Andrew Wheeler, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at the Cambridge Union.

Toward the end of Wheeler’s speech, five members of Extinction Rebellion Cambridge stood up with fake blood on their hands in protest of the former coal lobbyist’s role in the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations.

Although members of the audience turned and took photos of the protestors, Wheeler continued with his speech. He did not once acknowledge the protestors nor pause, even as they were willingly escorted from the debating chamber by security.

Members of Extinction Rebellion Cambridge also stood outside the Union, holding images of people facing the effects of climate change and playing loud music which reverberated into the chamber.

Police were present for the US government official's visit to the Unionhassan raja

After the talk, members of Extinction Rebellion blocked exits to the Union and blocked Wheeler’s car from exiting the premises.

Audience members strained to hear Wheeler’s comments as he was pressed by the Union’s Speakers’ Officer on climate change. The Speakers’ Officer posed hard-hitting questions to Wheeler, quoting Trump’s 2015 tweet in which he called for “a big fat dose of global warming” in response to the cold weather.

On Trump, Wheeler said that “I am very impressed with the depth of knowledge he has on any number of issues.”

One audience member, who accused Wheeler of ‘ecocide’ and ‘nepocide’, asked him how he sleeps at night.

Wheeler responded: “I sleep on my left side and usually wake up on my back.”

Attempting to make light of the situation, an audience member asked whether the Union always had such loud music playing during their speaker events.

Protestors outside the UnionHassan raja

During his opening speech, Wheeler noted that he was glad the Union had invited him to speak in what he deemed to be an age of declining free speech. The Union tonight saw a heavy security presence following threats of such a protest from the environmental justice group.

Wheeler became the 15th Administrator of the EPA earlier this year. In his confirmation hearing, Wheeler referred to the US as the “gold standard for environmental progress”. According to The Guardian, Wheeler was at the time working on rollbacks and regulations that would benefit coal companies.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, the former coal lobbyist stated that there was a “definite possibility” that some US coal mines could be reopened, and questioned the two degrees celsius figure that scientists hold as crucial for limiting the worst impacts of global warming: “How do we know that’s the tipping point?”

A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion told Varsity that, as Administrator of the EPA, Wheeler “is complicit in climate breakdown”.

There was an increased security presence at the Union hassan raja

“Wheeler’s EPA has begun dismantling rules that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that feeds us”. They also added that, as lobbyist for Murray Energy, Wheeler was paid more than $3 million “to lobby against climate regulation”.

“People such as Andrew Wheeler [...] will never be welcome in our city.”

Responding to Varsity's request for comment, a spokesperson for the EPA stated: “Administrator Wheeler deeply enjoyed the opportunity to speak today in the same hall w[h]ere President Teddy Roosevelt and Prime Minster Winston Churchill once spoke, and he welcomed the free and open dialogue with the audience members". They continued: "Administrator Wheeler had a fantastic time interacting with the students and speaking with the various student news publications on hand.”


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A spokesperson for the Union told Varsity: "The Union was able to host one of the world's most powerful people in global climate policy, and the Speakers' Officer and members thoroughly challenged and engaged with his views. We hope to continue upholding free speech within our Chamber, by debating and challenging those that shape the world around us."

In December, a New York Times analysis based on research from Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School and other sources counted 78 environmental rules that had at the time either been reversed or were in the process of reversal under US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Among the rollbacks already completed were cancelling a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions and revoking a directive for federal agencies to minimise impacts on water, wildlife, land and other natural resources when approving development projects.

Speaking about the protest, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion told Varsity: “We’ll have the same message for his boss Donald Trump, in London in June”.

  • Updated, 1st May 2019: This article was updated to include comment from a spokesperson from the EPA and comment from a spokesperson for the Cambridge Union

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