President Trump's nominee to be second in command at U.S. EPA helped kill bipartisan climate legislation during his time as a top Senate aide.
Andrew Wheeler, nominated by Trump yesterday to be EPA deputy administrator under Scott Pruitt, spent years as the staff director for the Senate's leading climate skeptic and former Environment and Public Works chairman, Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
During the George W. Bush administration, the Senate considered a series of bipartisan cap-and-trade climate bills that each sputtered out.
As Inhofe's top aide, Wheeler worked behind the scenes to help crush those bills.
He helped to push Democratic members away from the climate bills by “exposing economic arguments and the impact in industrial states,” said Matt Dempsey, who worked on the EPW Committee with Wheeler.
“He always focused on the economic argument because he understood that to be the winning argument,” Dempsey added.
Unlike Inhofe, who has long been a vocal critic of mainstream climate science, Dempsey said of Wheeler, “I don't think he dove as strongly into the science.”
Wheeler's denunciation on costs of federal climate policies puts him in line with Pruitt, who has criticized the burden that EPA rules have placed on industry, particularly during the Obama administration.
Inhofe praised the selection of his “close friend” and former staffer for EPA's No. 2 job.
“There is no one more qualified than Andrew to help Scott Pruitt restore EPA to its proper size and scope,” he said in a statement.
Marc Morano, who also worked with Wheeler on EPW, said of his nomination: “Real institutional reform at the EPA just got a whole lot more real. Climate activists who were hoping some part of Obama's climate 'legacy' was going to survive the Trump presidency have to be very concerned today.”
Indeed, green groups reacted to the nomination with dismay.
“Halloween apparently came early this October because the nomination of Andrew Wheeler as Deputy EPA Administrator is absolutely horrifying,” Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club's legislative director, said in a statement.
Pierce decried Wheeler's record of lobbying for coal companies and his time working for Inhofe, whom she described as “one of the most backward climate science deniers.”
Wheeler was Inhofe's EPW staff director from 2003 until 2009. Several other former Inhofe aides have already landed at EPA, including Pruitt's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson.
Wheeler, an Ohio native, worked for then-Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio); he also worked at EPA in the early 1990s as a special assistant in the agency's toxics office, according to his LinkedIn profile.
In 2009, Wheeler joined Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting in Washington. He's co-leader of the group's energy and natural resources practice and has lobbied for coal giant Murray Energy Corp., led by vocal Trump supporter Robert Murray.
Murray declined to comment about Wheeler's potential nomination.
Wheeler's nomination has been expected for months, and some speculated that his lobbying activities slowed down the announcement of his appointment.
He was registered as a lobbyist for Murray Energy and several other clients in the first quarter of this year, according to lobbying disclosure reports. He also signed up as a lobbyist for Energy Fuels Resources Corp., a U.S. uranium mining company, in February, according to disclosures.
His firm reported in August that he was no longer expected to act as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, Energy Fuels Resources, Sargento Foods Inc. or Underwriters Laboratories. Those appear to have been all the clients for which he was registered to lobby.
Some members of the coal industry greeted Wheeler's nomination warmly. In a statement yesterday evening, Paul Bailey, the president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, called him "extraordinarily qualified."
“His understanding of a wide range of environmental policies and the policy development process — combined with his thoughtfulness, judgment and temperament — will enable him to be an outstanding Deputy Administrator.”
The Trump administration has pledged to bar appointees from working on issues that they lobbied on in the previous two years, but many top officials have been granted waivers.
White House energy official Mike Catanzaro, for example, received a waiver that allows him to work on broad energy and environmental policy issues, like the Clean Power Plan and other issues he focused on as a lobbyist. Catanzaro also worked on Inhofe's EPW staff, joining the committee after Wheeler left in 2009.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.