Youngkin to nominate former Trump EPA administrator Wheeler to Virginia Cabinet

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn YoungkinGlenn YoungkinBiden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections Virginia's new Republican AG urges Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade MORE (R) will name former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerVirginia exits multi-state coalition backing EPA in climate lawsuit Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks 150 ex-EPA staffers ask Virginia lawmakers to oppose Wheeler nomination MORE as Virginia’s secretary of natural resources, a staffer with Youngkin’s transition team confirmed to The Hill Wednesday.

Wheeler, a former energy industry lobbyist, served as EPA chief during the Trump administration from 2019 to 2021. Since leaving the position, he has worked as a visiting fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation as well as the pro-Trump America First Policy Institute’s Center for the Environment.

The appointment was first reported in Politico’s Morning Energy newsletter.

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Youngkin’s office said in a statement that he will also name Michael Rolband, founder of environmental consulting firm Wetland Studies and Solutions, as the state’s director of environmental quality.

“Together, we will address Virginia’s ongoing environmental, energy, and natural resources challenges, including protecting the Chesapeake Bay, fully funding our best management practices, solving longstanding stormwater management issues, and establishing a Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority,” Youngkin said in a statement. 

Wheeler’s tenure was largely marked by loosening of environmental and energy regulations, many of which his successor, current EPA Administrator Michael ReganMichael ReganThe Hill's Morning Report - US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden officials announce clean energy plans EPA to assess health impacts of leaded aircraft fuel MORE, has taken steps to undo.

In 2021, Regan reformed an advisory panel of scientific experts on particulate matter air pollution after Wheeler dissolved it in 2018 while he was acting administrator. Wheeler also declined to tighten the Obama administration’s air quality standards for soot, which Regan has since pledged to review.

Since his victory, Youngkin has announced plans to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state carbon market that he decried as a carbon tax that fell on utility customers. The withdrawal process would likely be under Wheeler’s purview.

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Environmental groups and Virginia Democrats were sharply critical of Youngkin’s announcement, citing Wheeler’s record at the EPA.

“As head of EPA under former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE, Wheeler did nothing more than cater to corporate polluter interests time and time again, putting their welfare ahead of our environment and Americans’ health,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “This is hands down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the Governor-elect could make.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), meanwhile, called Wheeler an “anti-environment ideologue” and noted that he was not among the Cabinet officials who resigned following the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

“There are others with defensible records on environmental protection who would not compromise our natural resources or the moral and ethical standards Virginians expect and deserve. Governor-elect Youngkin can do better than this,” Beyer said in a statement.