Former energy lobbyist confirmed as nation’s top environmental official


The Senate on Thursday confirmed acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler to head the agency.

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

Tom Udall of New Mexico said Wheeler was "nominated to unravel and undo the environmental protections that are now in place". Wheeler had served as acting administrator.

"The policies he has supported as acting administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation", she said.

Business interests like oil and coal, eager to see reduced regulation, were quick to hail Wheeler's confirmation while Democrats and conservation groups are anxious that environmental rollbacks under the Trump administration are going too far.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled the confirmation vote for Wheeler on Thursday.

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Susan Collins, a moderate Republican senator from ME, has said she would oppose Wheeler's nomination, arguing his efforts to roll back standards on emissions blamed for climate change took the country in the wrong direction.

"There is no doubt that the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change pose a significant threat" to ME and the nation, Collins said, adding that pollution from coal-fired power plants threatens Maine's natural resources, "from our working forests, fishing and agricultural industries, to tourism and recreation". "RFA looks forward to continuing to work with him to implement a strong Renewable Fuel Standard, make year-around E15 a reality and to fix the damage done as a result of the unprecedented number of small refiner waivers granted by his predecessor", said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. At Wheeler's confirmation hearing last month, he said he considers climate change an "eight or nine" on a 1-to-10 scale of concern but that it is not the greatest crisis. As a result, many Americans born after the mid-1970s have never experienced average temperatures unaffected by human-caused emissions. 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".

In December, Wheeler delivered another two victories to the coal industry that, until mid-2017, had paid him to lobby the government. He proposed loosening requirements that coal-fired power plants reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

A bipartisan group of senators has also pressured Wheeler to take stronger actions to control a group of toxic chemicals found in some US drinking water known as PFAS, used in Teflon and firefighting foam. He also made it explicitly clear to lawmakers that he intends to continue the Trump Administration's reversal of environmental regulations.

"Wheeler wants to turn the EPA into a wish-granting service for polluters, no matter the cost to public health or wildlife". "But it's only a matter of time before his dirty dealings land him in the same trash heap as his predecessor".