Former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler will replace Scott Pruitt as acting EPA head

Key Points
  • Andrew Wheeler will become the acting administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, President Donald Trump said Thursday.
  • Wheeler assumes the role without the ethical baggage that defined the tenure of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.
  • But Wheeler's past experiences as a coal lobbyist and a staffer for the Senate's most vocal critic of climate change could make him an enemy of Democrats in Congress.
Andrew Wheeler during his confirmation hearing to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency before the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on November 8th, 2017.
Alex Edelman | picture-alliance/dpa | AP 

Andrew Wheeler, deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, will become the agency's acting chief following the resignation of Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump said Thursday.

"I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda," Trump said in the same pair of tweets in which he announced Pruitt's resignation. "We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!"

Wheeler will take over on Monday, Trump said.

Under Pruitt, the EPA became known more as a magnet for negative news bombshells than for its control over the Trump administration's environmental policy. But like his predecessor, Wheeler could prove to be a controversial pick among Trump's opponents, if only on policy grounds.

At the time of his resignation, Pruitt was mired in at least a dozen ethics probes into his workplace conduct and spending practices. While Trump heartily approved of Pruitt's deregulatory moves at the head of the EPA, a steady trickle of bad press prompted the White House in recent weeks to repeatedly express concerns.

Deputy admin. Andrew Wheeler to be acting EPA chief
Deputy admin. Andrew Wheeler to be acting EPA chief

Wheeler, in contrast, has been the subject of no such scandals since his confirmation in April, where he secured three Democratic votes in his favor for a final count of 53-45.

But while an EPA press release describes Wheeler as having "spent his entire career working in environmental policy," his past experience as a registered lobbyist for a coal mining company drew criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

In his confirmation hearing in November 2017, Wheeler said he would recuse himself from matters related to that coal mining company, Murray Energy, including meeting with former clients or his former law firm that represented the company.

Environmentalists and Democrats are wary of Wheeler's associations with climate change skeptics and deniers. Wheeler previously worked for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who authored "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future."

Some environmental groups are already speaking out against Wheeler.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement: "We have to restore public trust in the EPA and let the agency fulfill its mission, rather than gut the laws that keep our families safe. A coal lobbyist dogged by ethical questions like Andrew Wheeler is not the person to do that."