Senate panel advances Wheeler’s nomination to be EPA chief

Senate panel advances Wheeler’s nomination to be EPA chief
© Stefani Reynolds

A Senate committee on Tuesday voted along party lines to advance President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE’s nomination of Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for a coal company and other energy interests, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-10 to approve Wheeler and send him to the full Senate for consideration at the panel’s meeting.

All Republicans voted for Wheeler and all Democrats voted "no," including announced or potential 2020 candidates Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand Gillibrand relaunches PAC to elect women Analysis: 2020 digital spending vastly outpaces TV ads Two years after Maria, Puerto Rico awaits disaster funds MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MSNBC Climate Change Forum draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE (D-N.J.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest Krystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans 2020 Democrats defend climate priorities in MSNBC forum MORE (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democratic senators.

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Wheeler has been the acting administrator at the EPA since July, when former administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE stepped down under the pressure of numerous ethics and spending scandals. The Senate confirmed Wheeler in April 2018 to be deputy administrator

Republicans have cheered Wheeler’s continuation of Pruitt’s aggressive deregulatory agenda, and said his seven months at the EPA’s helm showed he is capable of leading the agency on an official basis.

“Mr. Wheeler’s done an outstanding job leading the Environmental Protection Agency these past six months,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Wyo.), the committee’s chairman, said before the vote.

To Democrats, Wheeler’s continued leadership at the EPA means more danger and harm to public health, the environment and the climate.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperInstead of raising the gas tax, stop wasting money on frivolous projects To stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists MORE (Del.), the committee’s top Democrat, pointed to a letter he wrote to Wheeler shortly after Wheeler took over in July, urging him to turn the agency around and learn lessons from Pruitt’s agenda.

“It brings me no joy to say that he has not done what I’d hoped he would do in a number of important respects — not all respects, but a number of important respects,” Carper said.

“In fact, in many instances, Mr. Wheeler has gone further than his predecessor in his rejection of important measures that are supported by a broad list of environmentalists and industry,” he continued, pointing specifically to Wheeler’s proposals to rescind the justification for the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule for coal-fired power plants and to freeze auto fuel efficiency standards in 2021 and cancel the planned increases in stringency for the following years.

The Environment and Public Works Committee also advanced the nomination of Peter Wright, Trump’s nominee to be the EPA’s assistant administrator for land and emergency management, which includes the Superfund cleanup program. That vote was also 11-10, along party lines.

Wright has generated controversy, including that he was previously a top attorney at Dow Chemical Co., which, along with DuPont and Co., with which it merged last year, is responsible for dozens of Superfund sites around the country.

EPA hired Wright last year to be an adviser despite the Senate not having a chance to vote on his nomination, which Democrats said ran counter to the Senate’s constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on senior officials’ nominations.