Trump formally nominates Wheeler to head EPA

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE has formally nominated Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist who has led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an acting capacity for six months, to serve as EPA administrator.
 
The White House said Wednesday that Trump had sent Wheeler’s nomination to the Senate, making good on a promise he made in November.
 
“I am honored and grateful that President Trump has nominated me to lead the Environmental Protection Agency,” Wheeler said in a statement.

“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.”

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The nomination came despite the ongoing partial government shutdown, which has brought the EPA down to a skeleton staff.

Wheeler, a former lobbyist for coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp. and other companies, has been the EPA’s acting head since July, when Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOn The Money: New financial disclosures provide glimpse of Trump's wealth | Walmart, Macy's say tariffs will mean price hikes | Consumer agency says Education Department blocking student loan oversight Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog finds Pruitt spent 4K on 'excessive' travel | Agency defends Pruitt expenses | Lawmakers push EPA to recover money | Inslee proposes spending T for green jobs Lawmakers take EPA head to task for refusing to demand Pruitt repay travel expenses MORE resigned due to growing ethics and spending scandals. The Senate confirmed him as deputy administrator in April.

Trump said in November that Wheeler had “done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him.”

If the Senate confirms Wheeler to head the EPA, his responsibilities and abilities wouldn’t change. But without the confirmation, he may have been limited to 210 days as acting chief.

The Senate currently has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats, so his confirmation is a near certainty.

Wheeler has overseen major action on some of the most consequential deregulatory proposals of the EPA under Trump. During his tenure as acting chief, the EPA has proposed to replace limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants with far looser rules, to stop plans to strengthen auto emissions and efficiency rules and to restrict the streams and wetlands that the EPA protects from harm.

Those actions have garnered repeated praise from affected industries, but sharp criticism from environmentalists.

The agenda is largely a continuation of Pruitt’s plans, but Wheeler has not gotten into nearly the same high-profile ethics troubles as his predecessor.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump boxed in on trade Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Mike Enzi announces he'll retire from Senate after 2020 MORE (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for reviewing Wheeler’s nomination and taking the initial vote, cheered the nomination Wednesday.

“Acting Administrator Wheeler has done an outstanding job leading EPA and is well qualified to run the agency on a permanent basis. I will work with committee members to get him confirmed,” he said in a statement.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, bemoaned Wheeler’s nomination.

“The only thing Wheeler is going to protect at the EPA is the profits of polluters,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “I’m sure corporate board rooms will celebrate this nomination. But for anyone who drinks water, breathes air or cares about wildlife, this will be nothing but awful.”

Wheeler started his career in the early 1990s as a career employee at the EPA, working on toxic substance policy. He later worked on Capitol Hill as a top aide to Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief Iran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton MORE (R-Okla.), a former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a vocal skeptic of climate change science.

Prior to becoming the EPA’s No. 2 official, Wheeler worked at the law and lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels, where his clients included Murray, led by outspoken coal booster and GOP donor Bob Murray.