President Donald Trump wants Andrew Wheeler to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the arm of the federal government tasked with protecting human health and the environment across the US.
Wheeler has been acting administrator of the EPA since Scott Pruitt resigned from his post as the agency’s head in July 2018, following months of ethical and financial scandals. Now President Trump wants to make Wheeler’s position official.
On Wednesday, 19 days into a government shutdown, the White House sent Wheeler’s nomination for the position, along with five other nominee names, to the Senate for review.
“I am honored and grateful that President Trump has nominated me to lead the Environmental Protection Agency,” Wheeler said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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.”
Since he started as acting administrator, Wheeler’s EPA has proposed allowing more mercury to be emitted into US air, and sought to undo decades-old protections for wetlands and streams that help maintain the quality of our water supply.
“He was very much an early Trump supporter,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One when he appointed Wheeler temporarily in July. “He was with us on the campaign. He is a very environmental person. He’s a big believer, and he’s going to do a fantastic job.”
Others aren’t convinced.
“In almost seven months as acting administrator, he has led efforts to weaken or eliminate meaningful limits on the largest sources of climate pollution, including smokestacks, tailpipes, and oil and gas facilities,” Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp said of Wheeler in a statement. “His policies will lead to dirtier air and water and unchecked climate pollution.”
Wheeler’s path to the EPA
Before Wheeler took over, Pruitt had also sought to delay and roll back environmental regulations. When he resigned, Trump tweeted that the former administrator had done an “outstanding” job.
But Pruitt’s long list of scandals included reportedly sending his staffers out in search of pricey beauty creams, spending high sums on first-class flights, instituting a 24-hour security detail, and purchasing an infamously expensive $43,000 phone booth, all on the public’s dime.
Before becoming the EPA’s deputy administrator, Wheeler worked for law firm Faegre Baker Daniels as an attorney, consultant, and co-chair of the firm’s Energy and Natural Resources Industry team, according to Wheeler’s EPA biography.
A Washington University law school graduate, Wheeler spent the first four years of his career at the EPA under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. At that time, he was a special assistant in the Pollution Prevention and Toxics office, working on issues involving pollution and chemicals.
Since then, Wheeler has split his time between lobbying Capitol Hill and working inside the halls of the federal government. On the lobbying side, he has worked for big names in the beltway energy sector, including Murray Energy (coal), Domestic Energy Solutions Group, Whirlpool Corporation, Xcel Energy and at least a dozen others, which ProPublica lists online.
On the governement side, Wheeler has worked as chief of staff for Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and on staff for Senator George Voinovich (R-OH).
He held several roles on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from 2003 to 2009: majority staff director, minority staff director, and chief counsel.
According to a biography on ProPublica’s website, Wheeler worked on “every major piece of environmental and energy-related legislation before Congress for over a decade.”
For example, he worked for the Committee on Environment and Public Works when the Clear Skies Act of 2003 was proposed, which aimed to reduce restrictions on toxins in the air. He was also there for the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which raised taxes on oil and gas producers in the US.
Wheeler doesn’t deny the scientific facts of climate change, but he said during his confirmation hearing for the deputy administrator position at the EPA that the human impact on the Earth’s rising temperature is “not completely understood,” as Inside Climate News reported.
Scott Segal, a fossil fuel lobbyist who has worked with Wheeler, told The New York Times: “He’s a careful, studious person. A quiet fellow. He knows the agency very, very well.”
Many environmentalists are fearful about what that savvy perspective might mean for the future of the EPA. The agency is tasked with protecting the nation’s air and water, but the Trump administration has pushed to undo a host of environmental regulations.
Jeremy Symons, vice president for political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, put it bluntly to Politico:
“Wheeler is much smarter and will try to keep his efforts under the radar in implementing Trump’s destructive agenda,” Symons said, comparing Wheeler to Pruitt.”That should scare anyone who breathes.”
Update: This post was originally published on July 5, 2018, and has been updated with details on Wheeler’s formal nomination.