Virginia Senate Panel Rejects Trump’s EPA Chief Wheeler for State’s Top Environmental Post, But Could He Still Get the Nomination?

Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler
Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler arrives for a House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

A Virginia Senate panel has rejected former coal-lobbyist and Trump administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Andrew Wheeler from serving in the state’s top environmental post. 

Wheeler was first nominated to serve as the state’s secretary of natural resources by new Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin in early January, as Huffpost reported at the time. The move prompted an immediate outcry from conservation groups and state Democrats, who control the Senate panel that rejected his nomination. 

“Today, Democrats delivered another huge blow to Governor Youngkin and his efforts to implement his dangerous agenda by taking the first steps to reject his far-right, Trump-selected Cabinet nominee for Secretary of Natural Resources,” party spokesperson Gianni Snidle said, as The Virginian-Pilot reported. 

The panel rejected Wheeler along party lines with a nine to six vote. Specifically, they removed Wheeler’s name from a list of Youngkin’s Cabinet picks, while then forwarding a resolution approving the rest of the Cabinet. 

This doesn’t mean Wheeler couldn’t still clinch the nomination, however. All it would take is one Democrat joining with Republicans to return his name to the resolution. Democrat Joe Morrissey, who does not sit on the committee, had previously said he would consider supporting Wheeler for the position, but has not commented on the latest development. Youngkin could also give Wheeler a different position in the administration that does not require Senate approval, The Washington Post explained. 

Wheeler served as EPA administrator under former President Donald Trump following the resignation of Scott Pruitt. As such, he spearheaded efforts to roll back several environmental regulations, including one limiting the chemicals allowed in coal plant wastewater and another controlling industrial air pollution

His nomination was opposed by more than 150 EPA employees, dozens of environmental groups and EPA staff union AFGE Council 238, all of which sent letters to the Senate, as HuffPost reported further. More than 130 of Wheeler’s former colleagues, both at the EPA and other organizations, did write a counter letter defending him. 

A spokesperson for Youngkin also maintained support for the nomination after the committee decision. 

“Andrew Wheeler is a highly qualified individual with an extensive background on natural resources and issues critically important to Virginians,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said Tuesday, as The Washington Post reported. “The governor is disappointed that the committee put partisan politics over the selection of an experienced public servant who would prioritize cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and James River.”

However, environmental groups argued that Wheeler was an “extreme” choice.

“As head of EPA under former President Trump, Wheeler did nothing more than cater to corporate polluter interests time and time again, putting their welfare ahead of our environment and Americans’ health,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement when the nomination was first announced, as HuffPost reported. “This is hands down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the Governor-elect could make.”

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