Trump formally nominates Wheeler to head EPA

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller 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 PruittOvernight Energy: EPA halts surprise inspections of power, chemical plants | Regulators decline to ban pesticide linked to brain damage | NY awards country's largest offshore wind energy contracts EPA allows continued use of pesticide linked with brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade 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 BarrassoPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' 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 InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase 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.