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 John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 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 PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas 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 BarrassoTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill 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 InhofePentagon releases report on sexual assault risk Trump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke 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 CarperTrump Jr. to Dem Senator: 'You admitted to hitting your wife so hard it gave her a black eye!' Melania Trump's spokeswoman gets Hatch Act warning for #MAGA tweet EPA to abandon restrictions against chemical linked to climate change 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.