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Senate panel advances Trump pick for No. 2 official at EPA

Senate panel advances Trump pick for No. 2 official at EPA
© Greg Nash

A Senate committee voted Wednesday to advance President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances Race debate grips Congress US reentry to Paris agreement adds momentum to cities' sustainability efforts MORE’s nominee to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The 11-10 vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee, along party lines, sets up former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler for a potential vote in the full Senate once GOP leaders schedule it.

The committee voted in November to confirm Wheeler. But Democrats objected to the GOP’s attempt to carry over Wheeler’s nomination at the end of the year, instead sending it back to Trump, who re-nominated him.

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Republicans said Wheeler is a highly qualified choice to be EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittScientific integrity, or more hot air? OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden proposes billions for electric vehicles, building retrofitting| EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels | Kerry to travel to UAE, India to discuss climate change EPA chief to replace Trump appointees on science advisory panels MORE’s No. 2 and help him implement Trump’s aggressive environmental deregulatory agenda.

“He’s proven himself to be a well-qualified, experienced and dedicated public service,” said Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Biden outreach on infrastructure met with Republican skepticism Sunday shows preview: Democrats eye passage of infrastructure bill; health experts warn of fourth coronavirus wave MORE (R-Wyo.), the panel’s chairman. “We all know that Mr. Wheeler will make an invaluable contribution to the nation’s public health and safety as deputy administrator of the EPA.”

Wheeler is currently a lawyer at Faegre Baker Daniels, and was until last year a registered a lobbyist for companies including coal mining giant Murray Energy.

He previously worked at the EPA and as a staffer for Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (R-Okla.), the Environment and Public Works Committee’s former chairman.

Democrats said they hadn’t gotten sufficient assurances that Wheeler would act independently from his former industry clients like Murray Energy.

“I believe that members of this committee and members of the public deserve more clarity about whether the Trump administration will be guided by science and the law or by Mr. Murray’s demands,” said Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Key Democrat says traveler fees should fund infrastructure projects Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead White House environmental council MORE (Del.), the committee’s top Democrat.

Murray has asked the Trump administration to implement a number of pro-coal policies. Some, like repealing the Clean Power Plan, have started to be implemented. Officials, though, have resisted action on others, like repealing the Obama administration’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases are harmful to public health and the environment.

Hours before the Senate committee vote, The Intercept reported that Wheeler held campaign fundraisers last May for Barrasso and Inhofe, who is still on the committee.

Wheeler had not been formally nominated by Trump at the time, but the administration had been rumored to be considering him.

The Sierra Club cited that report in calling for the committee to delay Wheeler’s vote and hold hearings on his fundraising.