Trump nominates coal lobbyist to help lead Environmental Protection Agency

Mythili Sampathkumar
US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks with coal miners at the Harvey Mine on 13 April 2017 Sycamore, Pennsylvania: Justin Merriman/Getty Images

Donald Trump just nominated a lobbyist for the coal industry to be the second-in-command at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Andrew Wheeler is a former Congressional aide and since 2009 has been a prominent lobbyist at the Faegre Baker Daniels firm where his clients include Murray Energy, one of the country’s largest coal mining companies.

The Sierra Club’s Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in a statement that “Halloween apparently came early this October because the nomination...is absolutely horrifying.”

He will appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a confirmation hearing, the very committee for which he was a staff director at one point.

If confirmed, he will serve as the Deputy Administrator of the federal agency to Scott Pruitt.

Mr Wheeler used to work for Senator James Inhofe, who infamously brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to decry the complaints of those who believe in global warming.

In a statement, Mr Inhofe, who also serves on the confirming committee, said the nominee will help “restore EPA to its proper size and scope.”

Nearly 400 people left EPA recently, which could push the federal agency to its lowest employment levels in three decades. Several advising scientist committees have also been gutted through contract non-renewals and people choosing not the serve under the Trump administration.

Mr Pruitt and the administration have come under fire for not filling several key positions at the highest level of the agency as well, so Mr Wheeler's nomination appears to be an attempt to rectify that.

He also did work for several western senators from states with oil and coal interests like Wyoming as well as participating in several litigation matters against the EPA.

Mr Pruitt, too, had sued the EPA on no less than 13 times over various regulations ahead of his appointment to lead the agency.

The president did sign an executive order in January that stated registered lobbyists would not work within the administration on issues related to their lobbying in the previous two years.

However, it appears Mr Wheeler will get a waiver.

Marc Morano, publisher of the Climate Depot blog, had worked with Mr Wheeler on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a number of years.

He told The Independent that Mr Pruitt “now has one of the greatest assets a cabinet member can have in Washington, a deputy administrator with deep institutional knowledge of the department he serves” as well as regulatory and policy chops.

“Real institutional reform at the EPA just got a whole lot more real,” Mr Morano said.

Indeed, Mr Wheeler’s appointment seems to be part of the grander strategy by the Trump administration to dismantle all Obama era climate change policies, particularly the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

The legislation is likely to be repealed and replaced; a plan to be announced in the next few days.

The CPP, called a “game changer” by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2015 after it was passed into law, regulates the carbon emissions of power plants.

According to the Washington DC-based organisation, power plants account for almost 40 per cent of the country’s emissions - “more than every car, truck, and plane in the US combined.”

If left in place, the CPP would reduce power plants’ carbon emissions by 2030 to a level 32 per cent lower than they were in 2005.

Opponents of the CPP went to court in 27 states to oppose the legislation and the DC Circuit Court of Appeals suspended the CPP at the request of the Trump administration in April 2017. It also set a 6 October deadline to get a report for the EPA about it will proceed, which could explain the timing of the intention to repeal being made public now.

The Obama administration considered CPP the main vehicle for achieving goals outlined in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

However, Mr Trump announced in June that the US would be withdrawing from the accord signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 in an effort to reduce carbon emissions and help poorer countries adapt to an already-changed planet.

The president said he believed the deal would put American workers, particularly in the coal industry, at an "economic disadvantage" despite the promise of renewable energy jobs and revitalised economy in areas suffering from the closing of mines.

The coal industry may see the greatest benefit from Mr Wheeler’s appointment.

According to Mr Morano, the nominee’s experience in the field helps Mr Trump “keep his promise to help reverse the damage that President Obama intentionally tried to bankrupt."