WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed President Donald Trump’s candidate, a former coal lobbyist, to lead the nation’s top environmental regulator over the objections of conservation groups and Democrats.
Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a Washington insider with years of experience working as a congressional staffer, was nominated by Trump in January to permanently replace Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July after widespread criticism for alleged ethical missteps.
“As acting administrator of EPA, (Wheeler) has prioritized commonsense policies that protect our air and water, while allowing our economy to grow,” said Senate Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming following the 52-47 vote.
Only one Republican in the Republican-controlled Senate opposed Wheeler, Maine’s Susan Collins, who argued his efforts to roll back standards on emissions blamed for climate change takes the country in the wrong direction.
Wheeler’s nomination has cheered business interests eager to see reduced regulation, but upset Democrats and conservation groups worried that environmental rollbacks under the Trump administration are going too far.
While running the EPA on an interim basis, Wheeler oversaw the weakening of Obama-era rules limiting carbon and mercury emissions from power plants and standards on carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks. He has also advanced an initiative to lift a summertime ban on higher ethanol blends of gasoline that was enacted to curb smog.
Like Pruitt, Wheeler held nearly 20 times more meetings with industry representatives than with conservationists during his first two months on the job, according to a copy of his schedule reviewed by Reuters.
During his confirmation hearing in January, he said he did not believe climate change was a major crisis - a stance that resonates with Trump’s skepticism but which clashes with the scientific consensus that global warming will have devastating consequences if not addressed urgently.
“Throughout his career, Andrew Wheeler has shown a clear disregard for the EPA’s mission to protect the public and environment,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein from California, after voting against him.
Prior to the vote, Wheeler had also faced a brief pushback from five Republican senators from oil states - including Ted Cruz of Texas - over what they perceived as his support of policies favorable to the ethanol industry.
The corn and oil industries have conflicting interests when it comes to biofuels like ethanol, which compete with petroleum for market share.
All five senators had met with Wheeler in February over the issue and voted to approve Wheeler on Thursday.