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 TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis 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 Elizabeth Gillibrand2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally First responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (D-N.J.) and Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' 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 PruittOvernight 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 Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits 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 BarrassoEPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' GOP senator: US should 'reevaluate' long-term relationship with Saudis 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 CarperFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards 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.