Trump nominates Andrew Wheeler to permanently head EPA

January 10, 2019

Trump nominates Andrew Wheeler to permanently head EPA La Moncloa - Gobierno de España / CCL

President Donald Trump nominated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acting chief Andrew Wheeler to hold the job permanently on Wednesday. 

Wheeler will fill the vacancy left by former chief Scott Pruitt, who left this summer after a tenure marked by scandal. Wheeler, Pruitt’s former deputy chief who took over the agency in July, said that he was “honored and grateful” to be selected for the job. 

The nomination of Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, leaves the EPA with a man at the helm who is friendly to Trump’s pro-coal agenda and who will continue Pruitt’s deregulatory push, but whose career has not been clouded in scandal.

Trump picks new EPA chief

Accepting the nomination on Wednesday, Wheeler said that he will take the responsibility of protecting the environment seriously.

“For me, there is no greater responsibility than protecting human health and the environment, and I look forward to carrying out this essential task on behalf of the American public,” he said.

The nomination fulfills a promise made by Trump in November at a Medal of Freedom ceremony to promote Wheeler to a permanent position. Wheeler’s job will remain mostly the same.

Wheeler was confirmed to his deputy role in April, but the Senate still has to confirm him again before he can take over his new job permanently. The White House forwarded his nomination to Congress on Wednesday.

Friendly to coal

Wheeler will first be considered by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), before a full floor vote. He will appear before the committee next Wednesday for a grilling on the EPA’s decisions since Trump took office, which includes time Pruitt was in office as well as Wheeler’s six months on the job.

“Acting Administrator Wheeler has done an outstanding job leading EPA and is well qualified to run the agency on a permanent basis,” Barrasso said. “I will work with committee members to get him confirmed.”

But even with Barrasso’s support, and while Republicans have an expanded Senate majority after the midterms, the confirmation may prove contentious for Wheeler, who was once a congressional aide to climate change skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Republicans have praised Wheeler’s nomination, saying that he is a capable and suitable candidate for the job, but Democrats and environmental groups say that he is a danger to the environment and that his work as EPA chief so far has been marred by conflicts of interest in light of his former lobbying career — namely, deregulation that benefited coal companies.

In his six months in office so far, Wheeler has eased regulations on carbon emission limits from power plants, suspended auto efficiency standards, and curtailed protections for wetlands and streams, actions that have earned him praise from the energy sector and criticism from Democrats and environmentalists. His deregulatory push continues a trend set by Pruitt, who was also criticized by environmentalists for rolling back job-killing regulations put in place by former President Barack Obama that strangulated the coal industry.

“The only thing Wheeler is going to protect at the EPA is the profits of polluters,” Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “I’m sure corporate boardrooms will celebrate this nomination.”

But it won’t just be corporate execs who are pleased with Trump’s nomination. Wheeler’s selection for a permanent role by Trump is a sign that the president intends to follow through on promises to protect coal from overzealous regulation — and a sign of good things to come for the millions of Americans whose livelihoods depend on the coal industry.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.