/Opinion | Critics wailed that Obama’s EPA was out of control. But look at Trump’s.

Opinion | Critics wailed that Obama’s EPA was out of control. But look at Trump’s.

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, outside the White House on Sept. 19. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)

DURING PRESIDENT Barack Obama’s administration, conservatives railed that the Environmental Protection Agency was out of control, imposing economically devastating rules and cracking down on states its leaders disliked. But it took a Republican president to show what politically motivated regulating actually looks like.

In a brazen abuse of federal power, President Trump’s EPA this week declared regulatory war on California. On Tuesday, Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a letter to the state accusing it of failing to meet federal air-quality standards and threatening to withhold billions in federal highway funding from the state. Then, on Thursday, Mr. Wheeler sent another letter to California demanding a remedial plan within 30 days to address alleged water issues. This came after Mr. Trump accused the state of dumping “needles” into the ocean and failing to deal with its homeless population. Mr. Wheeler’s second letter raises the possibility that “piles of human feces” from homeless camps are polluting waterways.

It is not hard to see what is happening here: Mr. Trump wants to paint California as a filthy socialist wasteland, undercut one of the most capable opponents of his administration and deflect criticism over his unforgivable mismanagement on environmental matters. California is a particularly attractive target for Mr. Trump and Mr. Wheeler because the state has stoutly resisted the administration’s recent attempts to loosen car emissions rules.

The Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Josh Dawsey report that “about three dozen other states also have counties that failed to meet national benchmarks for air pollution. And last year, the EPA estimated that 3,508 community water systems were out of compliance with health standards.” Yet California is the only one to receive such threats.

On most days, Mr. Trump is promoting policies and officials who are hostile to clean air and water, and that includes Mr. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist. This team has sided against state and federal efforts to address pollution of all sorts. The EPA revoked California’s ability to set car pollution standards. It has rolled back federal water oversight. The notion that Mr. Trump or Mr. Wheeler cares about California’s pollution issues does not pass the laugh test. They are using what tools they have to harass a state that has resisted Mr. Trump and his EPA’s deregulatory agenda.

Where are the conservative critics now that the EPA is actually out of control?

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