A coal lobbyist is lined up to become second in command at the EPA, and no one’s pushing back.
The nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be EPA deputy administrator, Scott Pruitt’s second in command, headed to a full floor vote in the Senate Wednesday morning without much debate, despite his ties to Big Coal and to Republican members of the committee. His nomination will likely be confirmed, and if Pruitt acts on any of his reported political aspirations, Wheeler would take the top post.
The Democrats recently trained their fire on Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Council on Environmental Quality, and let Wheeler fly under their radar. White’s nomination was withdrawn on Monday, but Wheeler’s was barely called into question by Democratic Senators Wednesday. And in December Michael Dourson, who was nominated to oversee the EPA’s chemical safety division, withdrew his nomination after it became clear that some Republicans would vote him down.
But Wheeler is sailing through.
As a lobbyist with Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, Wheeler represents coal giant Murray Energy, whose CEO has met repeatedly with the EPA, even handing the agency an “action plan” shortly after the inauguration, which the EPA has been working to fulfill.
He’s called into question established climate science, saying during his November confirmation hearing, “I believe that man has an impact on the climate, but what’s not completely understood is what the impact is.”
And Wheeler has hosted fundraisers, as recently as last May, for two Republicans on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the committee that voted on his nomination Wednesday, the Intercept reported Wednesday morning. Both of those senators, Republicans John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, voted to send Wheeler to the Senate.
There was no mention during Wednesday’s hearing of Wheeler’s political ties to members of the committee, and scant mention of him at all, with Democrats focusing their criticism instead on Pruitt.
Before becoming a lobbyist about 10 years ago, Wheeler worked for Inhofe for 14 years. Wheeler was the senator’s chief counsel, and Inhofe is one of the staunchest climate-deniers on the Hill. (Inhofe, in 2015, famously brought a snowball to the Senate floor in an effort to discredit climate science.)
Wheeler’s also publicly defended Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart tech editor with ties to Nazis and white nationalists.
Wheeler was voted through by the same Senate committee in November of last year. But because the full chamber didn’t vote on him last year, his nomination was returned to the committee Wednesday as a matter of procedure. Now, his nomination will go through to the full chamber, where Republicans hold a slim majority and he’s likely to be confirmed.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is widely thought to be vying for some higher office, whether governor of Oklahoma, as National Review recently suggested in a December cover story, or attorney general, should Jeff Sessions lose the president’s favor, according to Politico.
Wheeler, a well-groomed Washington insider with a firm grasp on slippery legalese, will be poised to undo key parts of the EPA’s regulatory mechanism. Though Delaware Sen. Tom Carper said Wednesday that Wheeler had assured him he wouldn’t seek to get rid of the endangerment finding, the scientific and legal determination that allows the agency to regulate greenhouse gases, Wheeler has publicly called the finding into question, the Huffington Post reported.
“He’ll do a good job and I’m glad he’s going to be confirmed,” Inhofe said Wednesday, shortly after the vote.