President Donald Trump nominated Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, setting him up to permanently fill a position he’s already occupied since July.
Trump praised Wheeler in November his “fantastic job” as acting administrator of the EPA following the July 2018 resignation of the agency’s former scandal-ridden head, Scott Pruitt. This month, the president submitted Wheeler’s formal nomination to the Senate. There’s still a ways to go before the ex-lobbyist’s confirmation, though, as the Senate will no doubt be critical of his relatively recent ties to the coal industry.
Of course, attempting to think of an independent government agency that doesn’t have a former lobbyist or corporate executive sitting at the head of its table leads to the conclusion that Wheeler will probably do just fine.
According to Bloomberg, Wheeler said he was “honored and grateful” for the nomination. “For me, there is no greater responsibility than protecting human health and the environment,” he said in an emailed statement. “I look forward to carrying out this essential task on behalf of the American public.”
Wheeler, who spent time as a Republican Senate aide in addition to his energy lobbying duties, clearly responds to Trump’s take on environmental regulation. He also backed many of Pruitt’s more controversial attempts to ease the glut of Obama-era regulations governing pollution that came shortly before the Trump administration took office. However, he’s also been more careful to avoid unwanted scrutiny and slower to play his hand.
Still, we expect more of the same from Wheeler, who’ll likely promote industrial and economic health before environmentalism. He’s already proposed lowering emission mandates for coal-fired power plants, openly backed glider trucks before coming down on them, and appears ready to support Trump’s attempt to rollback Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for automakers — albeit much more cautiously than his predecessor.
As a result, Wheeler is unlikely to prove popular with Democrats and is sure to be downright despised by environmentalists. But it’s not a cut and dried issue. The EPA’s acting head has been extremely critical of President Trump in the past. He also isn’t the kind of drain-the-swamp outsider the president promised, which could annoy the voter base.
Presently, the United States is doing rather well in terms of pollution. The U.S. has managed to lower its pollution index by a significant margin since 2008, faring better than much of Europe at the end of 2018. But there are miles to go before the nation can start lecturing Finland on how to be kinder to Mother Earth and air quality improvements have been gradually slowing since the early 1990s. Don’t anticipate that will change under Wheeler, who will be focused firmly on the business side of the environment after the government shutdown ends and he gains Congressional approval.