Virginia state Sen. Joseph Morrissey (D) on Tuesday questioned Andrew Wheeler, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) nominee for state secretary of natural resources, about his time as former President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head, asking why he could not convince Trump climate change is real.
Morrissey, speaking at a hearing of the state Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, complimented Wheeler as a “very articulate and persuasive individual.” In light of that, he asked, “Why do you think you weren’t able to persuade your former boss President Trump … that climate change is real and has potentially devastating impacts on the environment?”
Wheeler responded that specific climate actions on Trump’s part, such as withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement in 2017, occurred before Wheeler joined the EPA in 2018. He went on to say his discussions with Trump focused more on issues such as Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which pertains to state emissions limits.
During the hearing, Wheeler also addressed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an 11-state carbon market Virginia entered in 2021. While Youngkin pledged to withdraw from the compact, environmentalists and advocates have said he lacks the authority, as the legislature voted to join it. In an executive order Sunday, Youngkin instead called on the State Air Pollution Control Board to vote on whether to leave.
Asked if he agreed that “RGGI cannot be adjusted or modified or eliminated by edict of the governor and it has to be done by the General Assembly,” Wheeler responded “I think that will be part of the assessment that [the state Department of Environmental Quality] is undertaking, but from where I stand right now RGGI is the law of the state.”
Trump repeatedly falsely referred to climate change as a hoax both before and after his election. In October 2018, when Wheeler was serving as acting EPA chief, Trump said in a CBS interview that “there’s probably a difference” in the climate “but I don’t know that it’s man-made.”
Wheeler himself has acknowledged the reality of human-caused climate change but said in 2019 that “I don’t see it as an existential threat.”
Environmentalists were alarmed at Youngkin’s nomination of Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who rolled back numerous Obama-era environmental regulations at the EPA.
Leaders in Virginia’s state Senate, where Democrats still hold a majority, have indicated they have the votes and the will to block his confirmation. While Morrissey himself is considered a moderate whose vote with the majority is not guaranteed, he told The Hill earlier this month that he “won’t be supporting” Wheeler’s nomination.
Updated 4:22 p.m.