Trump nominates acting EPA head, an ex-coal lobbyist, to run agency

Environment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday nominated acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to run the agency permanently, the White House said, placing a former energy lobbyist at the helm of the nation’s top environmental regulator.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler addresses staff at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen/File Photo

The widely anticipated nomination provides Trump another avid supporter of his deregulatory and pro-fossil fuels agenda, but without the constant criticism over alleged mismanagement that plagued Wheeler’s predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

Wheeler took the reins at the Environmental Protection Agency on an interim basis in July after Pruitt resigned amid a slew of controversies that included his high spending on first-class travel, round-the-clock security, and office equipment.

Wheeler, 54, has overseen a number of deregulatory efforts since Pruitt’s departure, including proposals weakening Obama-era rules limiting carbon and mercury emissions from power plants, and an initiative to lift a summertime ban on higher ethanol blends of gasoline that was enacted to curb smog.

In November, Trump announced during a Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House that he had made up his mind to make Wheeler permanent, saying he had been doing a “fantastic job.”

The U.S. Senate, which is led by Trump’s fellow Republicans, is expected to approve Wheeler’s nomination.

Wheeler worked at the EPA in the 1990s and later in the Senate under Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a skeptic of mainstream climate science, before moving to the private sector as a lobbyist and consultant.

He has said he is “not at all ashamed” of his lobbying for Murray Energy Corp, the nation’s leading underground coal mining company, the focus of criticism by environmentalists.

Wheeler had also lobbied for utility Xcel Energy Inc and consulted for biofuels industry group Growth Energy, agricultural merchant and biofuels producer Archer Daniels Midland Co and International Paper Co.

Wheeler has said the EPA under his leadership would take the same course as under Pruitt, prioritizing cleaning up industrial Superfund sites, areas contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup, and financing investments in water infrastructure.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Peter Cooney, Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis

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