Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator, appeared poised and polished at his Senate confirmation hearing in November. He couched his objections to extensively accepted local weather science in ambiguous legalese, and saved his cool when, on the identical listening to, Kathleen Hartnett-White, the president’s decide for the Council on Environmental Quality, flamed out, stammering over questions of primary science.
On Saturday, the White House announced plans to drag Hartnett-White’s nomination amid waning Republican assist. But Wheeler is inching nearer to the EPA’s No. 2 job, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is predicted to advance his nomination in a vote on Wednesday.
The restraint that steeled Wheeler’s nomination appears prone to clear the best way for his affirmation. Unlike different Trump nominees whose outrageous opinions or lack of put them on the political fringe, Wheeler boasts each the Beltway aesthetic and the expertise wanted to turn out to be a strong EPA operator. His affirmation, critics concern, will velocity the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental and public well being protections, and make an enduring, if quieter, impression.
“It’s very alarming and distressing,” Mary Anne Hitt, a marketing campaign director on the Sierra Club, informed HuffPost. “He is correct up there with the listing of probably the most excessive folks that Trump has nominated for any company.”
Wheeler, a coal lobbyist and former legislative aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), is extensively seen as having the relationships and finesse wanted to keep away from authorized potholes whereas driving the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. He is aware of work the system from inside, having spent 4 years working on the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics underneath Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He mentioned the appropriate issues to woo critics at his affirmation listening to, calling EPA staffers “probably the most devoted and hard-working staff within the federal authorities.”
“The mission of the EPA to guard human well being and the surroundings is crucial to our nation and its residents and one thing that I take very significantly and I do know you do, too,” Wheeler mentioned.
The EPA didn’t reply to HuffPost’s request interview Wheeler, and directed questions on his nomination to the Senate committee. Faegre Baker Daniels, the regulation agency the place Wheeler presently works, directed HuffPost to the EPA.
“Andrew will deliver extraordinary credentials to EPA that may enormously help the Agency as we work to implement our agenda,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said when Wheeler was nominated in October. “He has spent his complete profession working to enhance environmental outcomes for Americans throughout the nation and understands the significance of offering regularity certainty for our nation.”
Wheeler gained approval from the Senate panel final 12 months, however his nomination by no means got here to the total chamber for a closing affirmation vote. His nomination was returned to the committee as a matter of process when the brand new legislative session started final month.
If Wheeler has something stacked towards him, it could possibly be a 2016 Facebook put up he wrote calling Trump a “bully” who “hasn’t been that profitable” in enterprise and who “has extra baggage then all the opposite Republican candidates mixed.” The remarks, surfaced in October by The Washington Post, gained new relevance this month after reporters unearthed two 2016 radio interviews by which Pruitt referred to as Trump a “bully” and an “empty vessel” on “the Constitution and rule of regulation.”
But that doesn’t appear to be deterring Republicans.
“Mr. Wheeler has confirmed himself to be a well-qualified, skilled, and devoted public servant,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the Senate committee, mentioned in November. A spokesman directed HuffPost to the statement on Monday.
Wheeler is prone to be confirmed within the full Senate, the place the GOP holds a slim majority. No Republicans publicly oppose him, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) ― who typically vote with the GOP on fossil gasoline points ― are prone to vote for Wheeler. Neither senator responded to requests for touch upon Monday.
To boot, Democrats have already spent political capital to upend extra egregious environmental nominations. Those embrace Hartnett-White ― who credited coal with abolishing slavery and instructed elevated carbon dioxide emissions have been good for the planet ― and Michael Dourson, whose consultancy was described in 2014 by InsideClimate News because the “one-stop science store” favored by the chemical and tobacco industries looking for affirmative analysis. Pruitt picked Dourson to guide the EPA’s chemical security division, however withdraw the nomination in December after two Republican senators mentioned they might not vote for him.
Democrats appear extra relaxed with Wheeler’s nomination. No Democrat raised considerations about Wheeler final week throughout Pruitt’s first Senate listening to since taking workplace.
Yet the selection of Wheeler is itself a unadorned reward to the coal trade, which has yielded outsized affect over the Trump White House. Wheeler lobbied on behalf of coal mining large Murray Energy as just lately as final 12 months, disclosure filings present.
The firm’s bombastic chief government, Bob Murray, already has performed a serious position in shaping Trump administration vitality and environmental insurance policies. Last month, Murray’s so-called “motion plan,” turned public. The proposals embrace a federal bailout of coal-fired crops, repeal of the Clean Power Plan and reopening of the 2009 EPA “endangerment discovering” that decided carbon dioxide air pollution poses a danger to public well being.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in a break with the White House, rejected the bailout plan. Pruitt announced his repeal of the Clean Power Plan, a set of guidelines to scale back emissions from energy crops, in October. But the administration’s determination on the so-called endangerment discovering is up within the air. Despite calls from ardent climate-change deniers to reopen the discovering, overturning the conclusion would require disproving the science behind human-caused local weather change in court docket ― an especially unlikely prospect. Pruitt mentioned final week that he had not yet decided whether or not to problem the discovering.
Democrats appear extra relaxed together with his nomination. No Democrat raised considerations about Wheeler final week throughout Pruitt’s first Senate listening to since taking workplace.
Wheeler could possibly be the person to guide that assault. In October, Pruitt railed towards the endangerment discovering for citing the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In what gave the impression to be a canine whistle to nationalists, he claimed the endangerment discovering “represents, and that is the primary time in historical past this has ever occurred, this company took work product of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and adopted it, transferred it to this company and used that as the premise, underpinnings, of the endangerment discovering.”
In actuality, the technical assist doc on the endangerment discovering references greater than 100 printed scientific research and cites peer-reviewed syntheses of local weather analysis by the White House’s Global Change Research Program, the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the U.N.’s IPCC.
But the criticism echoes Wheeler’s personal ideas. In March 2010, he accused the IPCC of blurring “the strains between science and advocacy” and functioning “extra as a political physique than a scientific physique.” He instructed the EPA might “rethink its endangerment discovering with out nearly solely relying upon the IPCC,” in keeping with remarks posted to his web site.
“I consider that man has an impression on the local weather, however what’s not fully understood is what the impression is,” Wheeler mentioned at his affirmation listening to when aggressively questioned concerning the findings of the federal authorities’s newest local weather report.
Wheeler’s Senate profession offers pause to environmentalists, too. Inhofe, who serves on the Senate panel voting on his nomination, is among the most ardent climate-change deniers in Congress. In 2015, the Oklahoma Republican brought a snowball to the Senate flooring in a comically flamboyant try to show local weather change is a hoax. Inhofe is a detailed ally of Pruitt, who is claimed to be contemplating a bid for his seat when the 83-year-old senator retires.
“Andrew Wheeler’s nomination may be very a lot in line with the Trump administration’s agenda of fossil gasoline exploitation and local weather inaction,” Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University and co-author of a book on local weather change denialism, informed HuffPost. “The environmental neighborhood’s celebration of the failed nomination of climate-change denier Kathleen Hartnett-White to guide the White House Council on Environmental Quality could also be short-lived.”