Scott Pruitt’s controversial and corrupt tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency came to an end last week. Today, Pruitt’s due to be replaced by long-time Washington insider Andrew Wheeler.
Wheeler, who’s expected to serve as the EPA’s acting administrator for the ‘foreseeable future,’ could prove an even less fitting pick than his predecessor. As a FiveThirtyEight headline notes, “Pruitt was friendly to the energy industry. His replacement was paid by it.”
Indeed, during his tenure as Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt did play an outsized role in ensuring the profitability of energy companies in his state and across the country. Along with recommending industry-crafted proposals for legislation, he sued the Environmental Protection Agency no less than 13 times. Pruitt’s suits ranged from complaints over wildlife management to opposing efforts to clean up the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.
But for Wheeler, loyalties may run deeper.
Earlier in 2018, writes FiveThirtyEight, Andrew Wheeler was a registered, paid lobbyist for one of the country’s largest coal mining companies. He’s also worked as an advocate for a major uranium boring firm, vacating both positions in April to become the EPA’s deputy administrator in April.
“But while Pruitt’s ethics problems compounded during his time in office,” observes FiveThirtyEight, “Wheeler’s potential conflicts of interest are embedded in his resume.”
President Trump, at least, seemed delighted—although supportive of Pruitt, he’d grown weary of the administrator’s penchant for scandal.
“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and last EPA agenda,” President Trump tweeted Thursday. “We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”
Since Trump’s situated himself in the Oval Office, the Environmental Protection has made progress—progress by way of budget cuts, mass lay-offs and a mission more inclined toward industrial interests than environmental care.
Wheeler’s resume, summed up in a recent NPR article on the appointee, makes him seem as odd a fit for the EPA as Scott Pruitt. He began a career in environmental law with the agency before transferring out to various roles with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Drafting proposals and regulations, Wheeler’s endeavors tended to overlook the outdoors and loosen industrial regulations.
And, before beginning his lengthy tenure as an energy lobbyist, Wheeler served as an aide for Sen. James Inhofe—an Oklahoma Republican who rebuked climate change by holding a snowball on the Senate floor.
Unlike Pruitt, there’s little doubt that Wheeler’s capable of acting an effective administrator—he’s intimately familiar with both the agency and the workings of Washington. Yet for many critics, quoted by NPR, his experience and approach to management may lie beside the point.
“We have in Andrew Wheeler someone who has made a career out of trying to block everything we’ve done to protect our children from the growing dangers of climate change—a person who has made a career out of trying to push back against common-sense safeguards to protect the air we breathe from dangerous chemicals like mercury, arsenic and others,” said Bob Deans of the National Resources Defense Council. “And that’s not in any way a qualification to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.”
Comparing Wheeler to Scott Pruitt, Deans added, “Going from a train wreck to a house on fire doesn’t give us comfort.”