A man formerly on the payroll of the largest coal mining company in America will now be second in command at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Senate confirmed the nominee, Andrew Wheeler, who mostly recently represented Murray Energy, on Thursday afternoon. He not only spent more than a decade as a coal lobbyist but also questions climate change. “I believe that man has an impact on the climate, but what’s not completely understood is what the impact is,” Wheeler said in a November confirmation hearing. He’s s also hosted fundraisers for Republicans who voted in favor of his own confirmation.
Wheeler’s confirmation comes at a trying time for the agency. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is currently entangled in several of the worst scandals of his career: He used a loophole to increase staff salaries, traveled by first class flights and private jets on the taxpayer dime, stayed in a lobbyist’s condo on Capitol Hill for $50 a night, just to name a few. His top aides are resigning, and sources have told the Associated Press that his situation is “unsustainable.”
That, coupled President Donald Trump’s propensity to fire or force out White House employees, and it’s not outrageous to think Wheeler might one day run the whole operation. Both Democrats and Republicans have called for Pruitt to resign, but Trump appears relatively supportive of the embattled EPA chief — so far.
Wheeler’s confirmation landed along party lines, with only three Democrats voting in favor of his appointment. But even the Democrats who voted against him didn’t do much to stop his ascension to the EPA. Instead, they focused on keeping Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Council on Environmental Quality from being confirmed, and largely ignored Wheeler.
Cover image: Andrew Wheeler during his confirmation hearing to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency before the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on November 8th, 2017. (Alex Edelman/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)