Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief?

Who is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief?
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Andrew Wheeler, the deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a former energy lobbyist, will become the agency’s acting head on Monday after Thursday's resignation of EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittUnderstanding the barriers between scientists, the public and the truth Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Trump-era EPA board member sues over firing MORE.

After a series of mounting ethics scandals, President TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE tweeted Thursday that he had accepted Pruitt’s resignation and that Wheeler will serve as acting head of the EPA.

"I am both humbled and honored to take on this new responsibility at the same agency where I started my career over 25 years ago," Wheeler said in an email to EPA staff later in the afternoon.

The news follows Wheeler telling The Hill last week that he wasn't interested in becoming EPA administrator.

“I’m the deputy administrator, that’s the position I signed up for, that’s the position I wanted. I didn’t want to be the administrator, still don’t want to be the administrator,” Wheeler told The Hill. 

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“I’m here to help Administrator Pruitt with his agenda and President Trump’s agenda for the agency. That’s what my job is," he said at the time. 

But Wheeler, who was confirmed in April, is widely seen as a replacement for Pruitt with similar deregulatory goals and facing fewer controversies.

Trump said he expects Wheeler to "continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda."

“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!" Trump tweeted.

The Senate voted in April, largely along party lines, to confirm Wheeler to the post. All present GOP senators voted for Wheeler, in addition to Democratic Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampVirginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters Washington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin warns about inflation as Democrats pursue Biden spending bill Overnight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance Exporting gas means higher monthly energy bills for American families MORE (W.Va.), who are each facing reelection in states that voted for Trump in 2016.

Democrats had argued that Wheeler wasn’t properly vetted to become EPA head in the scenario of Pruitt’s resignation. The probability of Pruitt leaving the post increased over the past few months, as he faced more several ethics probes into his actions as EPA chief. 

Some lawmakers also highlighted Wheeler's previous work as an energy lobbyist as a disqualification for him to lead the environmental agency. Wheeler previously worked as the co-head of energy practice for the law and lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels, and lobbied on behalf of clients including coal-mining giant Murray Energy Corp.

He undid his lobbyist registration last year, shortly before Trump nominated him for the job.

Wheeler has previously worked for the EPA, and was a staffer for Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate Senate GOP moving toward deal to break defense bill stalemate Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE (R-Okla.), who was chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at the time of Wheeler's employment.

“This is a selection that continues the Trump administration's essentially complete subservience to the fossil fuel industry in the entire environmental arena,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats see Christmas goal slipping away What's that you smell in the Supreme Court? The Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid MORE (D-R.I.) said at the time of Wheeler's nomination.

“There's very little chance that Mr. Wheeler is going to take his public duties seriously as No. 2 at EPA and it's not like at No. 2 at EPA, there's a stopgap that's going to defend us. So this is a really dangerous duo,” he said.

Republicans had defended Wheeler, saying he was qualified for the position and would continue the Trump administration's ending of environmental regulations that the administration considered unnecessary or burdensome for the energy industry.

-Timothy Cama contributed to this report which was updated 7:10 p.m.