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Former coal lobbyist confirmed as US’ top environmental official

The US Senate on Thursday, February 28, 2019 approved former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the Environmental Protection Agency by a vote of 52 to 47, elevating a veteran of Washington political and industry circles who has advanced President Trump’s push to rollback Obama-era environmental regulations.

Andrew Wheeler
Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Photo credit: Reuters/Ting Shen

Wheeler, who began his career at EPA during the 1990s but spent years on Capitol Hill before heading to the private sector, has won praise from Republicans for his deregulatory agenda but criticism from Democrats for his refusal to act on climate change and several public health priorities.

He has been running the agency since Trump’s first administrator, Scott Pruitt, stepped down in July amid multiple scandals surrounding his management and spending practices. Trump said in November that he intended to nominate Wheeler for the top job, saying he had done a “fantastic job” in his interim role.

At his confirmation hearing in January, Wheeler highlighted dozens of significant rules that the EPA has begun to roll back during the past two years, and he made clear to lawmakers that he intended to continue the Trump administration’s reversal of environmental regulations.

“Through our deregulatory actions, the Trump administration has proven that burdensome federal regulations are not necessary to drive environmental progress,” Wheeler said at the time. “Certainty, and the innovation that thrives in a climate of certainty, are key to progress.”

Despite the litany of rollbacks, the EPA under Wheeler also has rolled out initiatives aimed at reducing lead exposures around the country and providing oversight for a class of unregulated, long-lasting chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, or PFAS, that pose serious health risks to millions of Americans. But the agency has yet to take definitive regulatory action on those proposals.

One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted against Wheeler’s confirmation Thursday on the grounds that he had worked to water down federal rules curbing greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, as well as weaken fuel standards for the nation’s cars and pickup trucks.

“I believe that Mr. Wheeler, unlike Scott Pruitt, understands the mission of the EPA and acts in accordance with ethical standards; however, the policies he has supported as Acting Administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation,” Collins, who supported Wheeler’s confirmation as deputy EPA administrator last year, said in a statement.

Courtesy: The Washington Post

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