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 TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job 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 PruittOvernight Energy: EPA to make formal decision on regulating drinking water contaminant | Utility to close coal plant despite Trump plea | Greens say climate is high on 2020 voters’ minds EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Court tosses challenge to EPA's exclusion of certain scientists from advisory boards 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 BarrassoDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Senators highlight threat from invasive species 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 InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' 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 CarperDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants EPA to announce PFAS chemical regulation plans by end of year Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House 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.