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 TrumpTrump calls for Republicans to be 'united' on abortion Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution Facebook temporarily suspended conservative commentator Candace Owens 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 GillibrandOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — Momentum builds for federal laws enshrining abortion rights | Missouri lawmakers approve bill banning abortions at 8 weeks | Warren unveils plan to protect abortion rights 2020 Dem Seth Moulton calls for expanding cannabis access for veterans Momentum builds behind push to pass laws enshrining abortion rights MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — Momentum builds for federal laws enshrining abortion rights | Missouri lawmakers approve bill banning abortions at 8 weeks | Warren unveils plan to protect abortion rights 2020 Dem Seth Moulton calls for expanding cannabis access for veterans Momentum builds behind push to pass laws enshrining abortion rights MORE (D-N.J.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersHere are the potential candidates still eyeing 2020 bids Sanders unveils education plan that would ban for-profit charter schools Warren policy ideas show signs of paying off 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 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 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 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.), 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 CarperOvernight 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 Dems request investigation of lobbyist-turned-EPA employee who met with former boss 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.