Senate confirms acting EPA chief for permanent role

Cristina Cross
March 3, 2019

"Andrew Wheeler's corruption may be less cartoonish, but he's every bit the villain Scott Pruitt was", said Emily Knobbe, EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. Recently he unveiled a toothless "action plan" that fails utterly to address the nationwide crisis of drinking water contaminated with PFAS chemicals, fluorinated compounds linked to cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity.

Before Wheeler's confirmation previous year as second in command at the EPA, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wheeler's qualifications for the job were "beyond question".

With two years under their belt now, however, Hartl says the agency has likely learned from the legal setbacks and will be more deliberative in its attempts to rollback regulations. Senator Susan Collins of ME was the lone Republican to vote against the nomination. They have longed for one of their own calling the shots at the agency, and now they finally have their man in Andrew Wheeler. Mitch McConnell, who has received over $2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry and thousands from coal interests throughout his legislative career, joined with the majority voting in favor of Wheeler's confirmation. Wheeler "hasn't demonstrated a desire or a will to make any meaningful progress on clean drinking water standards and has rolled back clean air standards", he said. "And his record on climate change is simply disqualifying", he said. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. A month later, federal scientists from 13 agencies, including the EPA, confirmed the findings in a National Climate Assessment that forecast US average temperatures surging "9 degrees F (5 degrees C) or more by the end of this century".

Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate environment committee, called Wheeler "uniquely qualified" and said the EPA under Wheeler is putting forward proposals that "both protect our environment and allow the country's economy to flourish".

"Regulatory certainty has been key to the historic manufacturing job growth we've seen under the current administration, and that would not have been possible without Andrew's leadership at EPA", Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers said in an statement.

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Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president for political affairs at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said in an email that senators who cast their vote on Wheeler knew exactly what sort of choice they faced.

"Unlike with some nominees, we do not have to speculate about what Mr. Wheeler will do in office", she said.

Targeting an Obama-era policy opposed by farmers, the EPA announced plans in December under Wheeler's leadership to kill a clean-water rule that offered federal protections for wetlands and other isolated water bodies.

All five senators had met with Wheeler earlier in February over the issue and voted to approve Wheeler on Thursday.

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