In a widely expected move, President Donald Trump tapped U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to officially lead the organization.
Trump had hinted during a November 2018 press conference that he planned to nominate Wheeler to take the EPA's helm on more than an interim basis, and the White House announced Jan. 9 that the nomination was sent to the Senate for consideration. Wheeler, who was confirmed 53-45 as the EPA's deputy administrator in April 2018, stepped up to head the EPA temporarily after former Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July 2018 amid a cloud of ethics investigations.
Wheeler previously was a lobbyist for Murray Energy Corp. and a principal at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, where he co-led that firm's energy and natural resources practice. Before that, he was majority staff director, minority staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including under former Chair Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who is known for being skeptical of climate change science. Wheeler began his professional career in 1991 as an EPA staffer in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, where he worked under the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.
Soon after he was installed as deputy administrator, Wheeler signed a two-year recusal agreement that bars him from participating in issues involving the EPA on which he lobbied. As acting administrator, Wheeler has continued to advance the Trump administration's deregulatory environmental agenda, which includes efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations on coal-fired power plants and greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles' tailpipes.
During his upcoming confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Wheeler likely will face tough questions from Democrats on the EPA's efforts to roll back a slew of Obama-era regulations. However, Senate Republicans hold an 11-10 majority on the committee, and Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wy., has expressed support for Wheeler's nomination. "Acting Administrator Wheeler has done an outstanding job leading EPA and is well qualified to run the agency on a permanent basis," Barrasso said in a statement Jan. 9. "I will work with committee members to get him confirmed."
Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club denounced the nomination, pointing to Wheeler's track record of lobbying for energy clients. "We intend to make it clear to every senator that Wheeler has no place at the EPA and should be swiftly rejected by any senator who cares about protecting the health of their constituents," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement Jan. 9.
The environment and public works committee will hold a hearing on Wheeler's nomination at 10 a.m. on Jan. 16. If it is voted out of committee, the nomination will head to the full Senate for consideration, where Republicans control the chamber 53-47.