By Lisa Friedman
October 6, 2017 - President Trump on Thursday nominated Andrew R. Wheeler, a coal lobbyist with links to outspoken deniers of established science on climate change, to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
In announcing Mr. Wheeler, a former aide to Senator James M. Inhofe, to be deputy administrator of the agency, the White House tapped an experienced legislative hand reviled by environmental activists but hailed by industry as having the know-how to dismantle Obama-era fossil fuel regulations.
The nomination comes at a critical moment for the E.P.A. as the agency prepares to repeal a sweeping climate change regulation known as the Clean Power Plan. It would also fill a key high-level position at the agency, where many top offices remain vacant. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Wheeler would become the most powerful person at the agency behind its administrator, Scott Pruitt.
“It’s a solid choice,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a group that promotes fossil fuels and opposes most climate change policy. “Andrew is highly qualified, can work with Congress and understands what needs to be done to articulate President Trump and Administrator Pruitt’s vision of resetting our energy and environmental policies.”
Since 2009, Mr. Wheeler has been a leader in the energy practice of the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. His clients at the firm have included Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies. Before joining the firm, he worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade, much of that time serving under Senator Inhofe as the Oklahoma Republican’s chief counsel and as the staff director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“He has spent his entire career working to improve environmental outcomes for Americans across the country and understands the importance of providing regulatory certainty for our country,” Mr. Pruitt said in a statement.
Senator Inhofe is perhaps best known for having brought a snowball to the Senate floor to assail the “hysteria on global warming.” Yet those who work with Mr. Wheeler say he is reliably conservative but not a firebrand in the mold of his former boss. He has opposed the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants; criticized an agreement Mr. Obama made with China to jointly cut carbon pollution as “unilateral disarmament with China”; and heralded Murray Energy’s opposition to the Paris agreement on climate change, which Mr. Trump has vowed to abandon.
“There is no one more qualified than Andrew to help Scott Pruitt restore E.P.A. to its proper size and scope,” Senator Inhofe said in a statement. He added that he hoped to see Mr. Wheeler confirmed quickly.
That may not be in the cards. Democrats have already raised concerns about how the administration is filling out the E.P.A., and in a hearing this week clashed with nominees over issues like climate change and pesticides. Moreover, tax reform remains at the top of the Senate calendar.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island who has made climate change one of his signature issues, said in a statement that Mr. Wheeler’s work for Murray Energy should disqualify him from the position.
“In Andrew Wheeler, the President has tapped yet another fossil fuel industry lobbyist to help in the capture of the Environmental Protection Agency for big polluters,” he said. “He shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the office to which he’s been nominated, but here we are.”