Acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler drew criticism at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday for his environmental rollbacks in six months on the job. (Jan. 16)
WASHINGTON – Andrew Wheeler is no longer the acting director of the EPA following the Senate’s vote Thursday to make him the official head of the environmental regulatory agency.
The Senate narrowly confirmed Wheeler 52-47, largely along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats against him.
While leading President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda, Wheeler also has emphasized the agency’s work to clean up Superfund sites and, for the first time, begin regulating a set of harmful chemicals found in drinking water systems that serve millions of Americans.
“Mr. Wheeler has proven his ability to advance pragmatic solutions to pressing environmental challenges,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins was the lone Republican to oppose Wheeler’s confirmation.
While calling Wheeler “certainly qualified for this position,” Collins said some of the policies he has proposed as acting administrator “are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation.”
A former EPA bureaucrat who also served as an influential Capitol Hill staffer and an energy lobbyist, Wheeler had been acting administrator of the agency since July when he replaced Scott Pruitt who left under an ethical cloud.
When Trump nominated Wheeler for the official post in November, the president praised him for performing “a fantastic job.”
Though not as controversial or ethically compromised as Pruitt, Wheeler is opposed by a number of environmental groups who sharply criticize the president’s aggressive efforts to undo Obama-era rules designed to protect the environment and address climate change.
“It’s a sad day for public health and the EPA, but mission accomplished for the fossil fuel and chemical industries,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement following the vote. “They have longed for one of their own to call the shots at the agency, and now they finally have their man in Andrew Wheeler.”
At his confirmation hearing in January, Senate Democrats grilled Wheeler about his agency’s proposals to roll back mercury emissions standards, weaken clean water regulations and scrap Obama-era climate change rules.
Shortly after taking over in July, Wheeler’s EPA moved ahead with a plan to do away with the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and replace it with a proposed rule to set state guidelines for power-plant emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to a warming planet. And his agency finalized revisions to a 2015 Obama-era rule regulating the disposal of coal ash that gives states and utilities what he called “much needed flexibility” to manage their waste.
He also recommended freezing miles-per-gallon standards for cars and light trucks after the 2020 model year and preventing California and other states from setting tougher standards, saying it will improve safety and keep prices lower for consumers.
“We haven’t slowed down and we haven’t missed a step,” Wheeler told senators in August. “As you can see, we’re continuing the president’s agenda post-haste.”
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