Past-Due Nomination of EPA’s Number Two Official Is Welcome News

President Donald J. Trump nominated Andrew R. Wheeler to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on October 5th. Wheeler has worked since 2009 as a lawyer-lobbyist at Faegre Baker Daniels, where one of his clients has been Murray Energy, the large privately owned coal company run by Bob Murray.

For 14 years, Wheeler worked in several posts, including committee staff director and general counsel, at the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), when Inhofe served as chairman and ranking Republican. Prior to joining the Senate EPW Committee staff, Wheeler worked four years at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. Sen. Inhofe released a statement, in which he said: “There is no one more qualified than Andrew to help Scott Pruitt restore EPA to its proper size and scope.”

I have worked with Andrew for many years, and in my opinion, his nomination is very good news. He holds all the right positions on the major issues before the agency and is both highly qualified and highly experienced. His experience working inside the EPA means he will bring useful management capabilities to the number two position—deputy administrator under Administrator Scott Pruitt—which is largely a managerial job.

The question is why it has taken the White House so long to nominate Wheeler. The Washington Post reported that he was going to be nominated on July 21. Politico reported that the President was expected to nominate him on March 16.   

Another nominee with experience working inside the EPA, William Wehrum, had his nomination hearing this week before the Senate EPW Committee. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) announced that he would oppose Wehrum’s confirmation as assistant administrator for air and radiation, just as he had opposed his confirmation 11 years ago. Wehrum served as acting assistant administrator in the George W. Bush administration, but was never confirmed.

I expect Wheeler and Wehrum will be confirmed, but without much Democratic support. I hope the Senate will vote on their nominations (and on several other recent nominations to EPA positions) without major delays. President Trump’s aggressive deregulatory agenda has gotten off to a good start under Administrator Pruitt, but the lack of other confirmed appointees makes it much harder to complete many of the reforms that have been launched.