While environmental advocates may have cheered the resignation of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt late last week following over a year’s worth of ethical scandals, interim agency head Andrew Wheeler’s professional history suggests deregulation will continue during his tenure.
Prior to Wheeler becoming Pruitt’s top assistant at EPA earlier in 2018, the 55-year-old Ohio native worked for the Washington-based energy advocacy firm Faegre Baker Daniels starting in the late 2000s. Wheeler’s clients included America’s largest coal operator Murray Energy Corp., Excel Energy Inc., as well as a uranium mining company which he sought to open a portion of Bears Ears National Monument for by lobbying the Interior Department.
Prior to his tenure at Faegre, Wheeler served as a staff member for climate change denier Sen. James Inhoffe (R-Okla.) and chief counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, working to defeat proposed environmental protection laws. The new EPA chief also once served as the vice president of the Washington Coal Club, a conglomerate of over 300 coal industry companies.
“Wheeler is viewed generally as a sort of standard-issue member of the Washington, D.C., policy and lobbying ecosystem,” said a former Senate Energy Committee staffer who currently heads Harvard University’s environmental law program. “He is a member of the very same coalition Pruitt has been representing.”
Warnings by environmental advocates about Wheeler’s pro-energy, anti-environmental agenda and subsequent conflicts of interest are tempered by assurances from EPA appointees like spokesperson Kelsi Daniell who says Wheeler will not involve himself with specific regulations “involving former clients” until April 2020.
Despite the pledge, however, Wheeler can obtain waivers from the agency’s legal office to involve himself with matters relating to former clients with virtually no oversight enforcement from either the White House or the Office of Government Ethics.
“The public should be very concerned,” said Craig Holman of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “The industries that are being overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency are now in control of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
Case in point: Before leaving office on Friday, Pruitt approved an exemption through 2019 to allow the manufacture of an unlimited amount of tractor trucks specifically known as gliders that utilize cheaper engines built before emission standards were implemented.
According to multiple reports, a number of manufacturing companies had lobbied EPA for the reform, including Fitzgerald Glider Kits, whose CEO met with Donald Trump both on the campaign trail and after his election.
[Washington Post] [NBC News] [Bloomberg] [New York Times] [Vox] [Photo courtesy DeSmogBlog]