Congress confirmed this week a former coal lobbyist for the number two position in the Environmental Protection Agency.
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In a party line vote, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler to be the deputy administrator of the EPA.
Wheeler is a director of the consulting firm Faegre Baker Daniels and registered as a lobbyist for companies like Murray Energy in 2017, according to federal lobbying records. The Murray Energy website calls it the largest coal mining company in the country.
He also worked at the EPA at the Office of Pollution Prevention during the George H.W. The Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, according to an EPA press release, as a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and served as general counsel for conservative Sen. James Inhofe, R-Ok., Who wrote a book on global warming called "The greatest deception."
One of the controversies with the Wheeler nomination has been that connection with Murray Energy's CEO, Bob Murray.
Murray has publicly said that climate change is not a problem and that carbon dioxide, which the EPA lists as the main greenhouse gas, is not a pollutant.
In a PBS documentary that aired last October, Murray said he had written an "action plan" to help the coal industry and said the administration had already "erased the front page" of their applications. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's office obtained a copy of that memo, reviewed by ABC News, which lists 14 policy priorities, such as reversing the Clean Energy Plan and removing the finding that forms the basis of EPA's authority to regulate gas emissions. of greenhouse effect
During the discussion of Wheeler's nomination on Thursday Whitehouse, D-R.I., Showed an image of a meeting at the Department of Energy where Murray met with Secretary Rick Perry. Wheeler is in pictures of that meeting that were filtered by a photographer from the department, who then said he was fired for sharing the photos.
At his confirmation hearing last November, Wheeler said he was no longer registered as a lobbyist for Murray since last August. He said he was not part of writing that memo or asked to help him implement it.
Wheeler also said he would follow the recommendation of the EPA ethics office in recusing himself of matters in the EPA that involve Murray Energy, including the company's pending lawsuits against the agency.
"I will withdraw from any work in which there is a conflict in the future," Wheeler said at the hearing.
Some Democratic senators called without delay for a vote delay on Thursday, saying they wanted Wheeler to be further investigated because of the controversy surrounding Pruitt and they indicated after the vote that Wheeler could be the next to assume EPA if Pruitt resigns or is dismissed by the president.
"It is entirely possible that Andrew Wheeler will take over as interim administrator before serving a single day as deputy administrator," said the chief democrat on the Senate committee with oversight from the EPA, Senator Tom Carper, D-Del. Thursday.
Whitehouse slammed Wheeler's confirmation into a statement after the vote, saying that a "coal baron lobbyist" was a dangerous option for a top job at the EPA.
"Wheeler's work was helping Murray to bring down the vital protections of health and safety for the American people," Whitehouse said in the statement.
Inhofe defended Wheeler on Thursday, saying he would be a good environmental steward at EPA and that Democrats are simply angry that the Trump administration is backing the stringent environmental regulations set by President Barack Obama.
"The extreme environmentalists wrote environmental regulations under the Obama administration … and they can not handle the Americans saying 'Basta'," Inhofe said Thursday.
This week's vote on Wheeler was even more notorious because of the controversy surrounding EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in recent weeks, including questions about his housing arrangement in a Capitol Hill house connected to lobbyists and their expenses in travel and security since he took over the agency. More than 100 members of Congress, including three Republicans, called for Pruitt's resignation and the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee requested EPA to submit documents on Pruitt's spending decisions and housing arrangements for the committee.
Pruitt tweeted to congratulate Wheeler and said in a statement that he looks forward to working with Wheeler to implement the president's agenda.
Let me be the first to congratulate Andrew Wheeler as @EPA & # 39; s new deputy administrator. Andrew spent his entire career promoting healthy environmental policies and I look forward to working with him to implement President Trump's environmental agenda.
– Administrator Pruitt (@EPAScottPruitt) April 12, 2018
Former acting interim administrator, Mike Flynn, who was with the EPA for more than 36 years, retired last week .
Nine environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote to the senators urging them to vote against Wheeler.
Some Democrats said that Wheeler should be investigated further if Pruitt resigns and ends up taking over the EPA. The highest-ranking member of the committee that considered his nomination, Senator Tom Carper, D-Del., Said that more questions about the actions in the agency have been raised since Wheeler's confirmation hearing.
Other Republicans, including the chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said they were confident Wheeler would be a good addition to the agency.
"Andrew Wheeler is well qualified to serve in this critical position at the EPA," said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming.
Another Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said she had more confidence in Wheeler than Pruitt to run the agency.
The EPA did not say Thursday when Wheeler will take an oath.