The interim and perhaps long-term head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may not garner as many headlines as his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, but he may be no less a friend to the coal power industry.
In fact, he could be even stronger on bolstering the stuggling power generation resource.
Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler steps up, at least temporarily, after the much maligned Pruitt suddenly ended his tenure amidst numerous ethics probes. Even many Republicans had been calling for Pruitt’s ouster in recent weeks, despite agency moves that were seen to help fossil fuel sources such as coal.
Pruitt was well known and often celebrated in conservative circles for his fights trying to eliminate layers of federal regulation over the energy industries. Yet Wheeler has even greater bona fides in that respect—he worked on behalf of coal producers.
President Trump certainly seemed confident that Wheeler will continue the regulatory rollback started under Pruitt.
“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”
He spent eight years representing privately held coal giant Murray Energy as part of the Faegre Baker Daniels law firm until 2017, according to various reports. During that time, Wheeler lobbied against President Obama’s environmental regulations, including the now defunct Clean Power Plan. Murray Energy owner Robert Murray was a substantial contributor to President Trump’s election campaign.
The Clean Power Plan, first approved in 2015, would have required states to reduce power plant carbon emissions a combined 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Some coal-heavy states such as North Dakota would have had to reduce that CO2 output by close to 50 percent, which some critics warned as a devastating financial burden.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the Trump’s EPA is writing a new rule to replace the Clean Power Plan.
Although he was brought onboard the EPA just three months ago as deputy, Wheeler started his career with the agency in the early 1990s, according to reports. He served as special assistant in the Pollution Prevention and Toxics office, where he received three bronze medals for his agency work during the first Bush and Clinton administrations.
Wheeler left the EPA in the mid-1990s to work on staff in the U.S. Senate. He worked for Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe—a well-known climate change skeptic—and as staff director and general counsel for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works prior to joining the private sector with the law firm.
In addition to Murray Energy, some of Wheeler’s other clients had been the Nuclear Energy Institute, UL and Xcel Energy.
Wheeler grew up in Ohio and was an Eagle Scout. He earned degrees from Case Western Reserve University, Washington University in St. Louis’ law school and George Mason University.
Like his boss, Wheeler also has been active on Twitter, although he mainly has retweeted others since taking the EPA post. Most of the retweets echo pro-Trump positions on various issues, including immigration.
Wheeler and the Trump Administration should expect a contentious confirmation process if he is to become Pruitt’s successor. Despite some bipartisan support, Wheeler’s confirmation as deputy administrator took close to six months and ended only when Senate Republicans forced a majority vote.
Supporters say he supported environmental causes and sought regulatory balance throughout his earlier EPA work. Opponents fear he was support a coal power rebound.