What Acting EPA Chief Andrew Wheeler Means for Trump’s Deregulation Agenda
Scott Pruitt’s departure leaves Andrew Wheeler as the acting administrator of the EPA for the foreseeable future, with much speculation as to how the former lobbyist and lawyer will run the agency.
Wheeler, the current deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will now serve as acting administrator following President Donald Trump’s Thursday announcement that Scott Pruitt has resigned. Before succumbing to mounting scandals, Pruitt led the most ambitious deregulation agenda in a generation, rolling back a litany of Obama-era environmental rules and regulations. With Pruitt now gone, many are wondering how his successor will lead the agency.
Who is Andrew Wheeler?
Wheeler, after obtaining his J.D. from the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, went on to work in the government sector for many years. The Ohio Republican spent time at the EPA in the early ’90s and then worked as a congressional staffer, serving as aide to Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe and a staff director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Wheeler worked at FaegreBD Consulting and Faegre Baker Daniels law firm, where he lobbied on behalf of a number of energy companies with strong ties to the coal industry. Before Trump nominated him to the EPA, Wheeler lobbied against many of then-President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations. His lobbying client list includes Murray Energy, Xcel Energy, Nuclear Energy Institute and others.
How Will He Lead the EPA?
Despite dancing on the grave of Pruitt’s EPA career, environmental activists may come to regret his departure. Nearly every expert is in agreement that Wheeler will not only continue Pruitt’s deregulation agenda, but will be much more effective at it.
Wheeler spent eight years representing Murray Energy, a coal energy giant, before joining the EPA in 2017. Like Trump, he has expressed skepticism for man-made climate change and is sympathetic to the plight of the U.S. coal industry. Unlike Pruitt, however, Wheeler has spent decades on Capitol Hill and knows very well how to leverage the powers of the federal government.
“Wheeler is much smarter and will try to keep his efforts under the radar in implementing Trump’s destructive agenda,” stated Jeremy Symons, vice president for political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, in a statement to Politico.
There are dozens of environmental regulations the Trump administration is still trying to roll back or eliminate completely, many of them pertain to the fossil fuel industry. Wheeler is expected to quickly pick up where Pruitt left off.
“Wheeler, with his vast experience and ability to stay out of the spotlight will likely be even more effective at pursuing Trump’s policies,” Erin Dunne wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed.
Liberals Already Hate Him
Only minutes after Trump’s announcement, White House critics began attacking Wheeler, claiming he will be another foe to environmental protections. Numerous Democrats and environmental groups were quick to point out that Wheeler was a former coal lobbyist, with many claiming him to be a “climate denier.”
Progressive groups and news outlets led an unprecedented campaign to unearth any Pruitt scandals they could find. The new leader of the EPA should not expect to be treated any differently as he continues with Trump’s deregulation agenda.
“Andrew Wheeler is next in line at EPA and you’d better believe we’ve got our eye on him,” tweeted Mary Anne Hit, the director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
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