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 TrumpProgressive group launches M pro-Biden ad buy targeting young voters Ilhan Omar: GOP response to calls for police reform 'was vicious' White House considers sweeping travel ban on members, families of the Chinese Communist Party: report 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 GillibrandBiden campaign announces second round of staff hires in Arizona Democrats seek to tie GOP candidates to Trump, DeVos Democratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThis Tax Day, let's talk about why we need real tax reform The Hill's Coronavirus Report: California backtracks on reopening as cases soar nationwide; SoapBox CEO David Simnick says nimble firms can work around supply chain chokepoints to access supplies for sanitizers and hygienic materials In politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over MORE (D-N.J.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersProgressive group launches M pro-Biden ad buy targeting young voters Trump attacks Biden clean energy plan while announcing environmental rollback Car on fire near Supreme Court 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 ordered to reconsider New York efforts to tame downwind pollution OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups 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 BarrassoSunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears 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 CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate policies | Unilever to pull ads from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram | FEC commissioner steps down Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases 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.