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Trump plans to nominate Andrew Wheeler, former coal lobbyist, as next EPA chief

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Friday said he intends to nominate former industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as the Environmental Protection Agency’s next administrator, a move that would ensure a continued deregulatory push at the agency.

Trump made the impromptu announcement during a Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, saying that Wheeler had done a “fantastic job” as the agency’s acting administrator in recent months. Wheeler took the help of the agency in early July after Scott Pruitt resigned amid mounting ethics scandals.

During his brief tenure as EPA’s acting chief, Wheeler has proven far different than the man he replaced. Where Pruitt was a politician who enjoyed the limelight and the trappings of Cabinet life, Wheeler has long worked behind the scenes on energy and environmental policy and generally avoids the spotlight.

But Wheeler and his predecessor have this much in common: A zeal to deregulate. Wheeler made clear from the start that he intends to carry out many of the regulatory rollbacks set in motion under Pruitt, and to pursue new ones.

“I will try to work to implement the president’s agenda,” he told The Post shortly after he took over the reins at EPA this summer. “ I don’t think the overall agenda is going to change that much, because we’re implementing what the president has laid out for the agency.”

In the months since, Wheeler has continued to advance the president’s agenda, proposing rules to loosen carbon limits on power plants and relax fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. Those proposals, along with moves to change the way the agency calculates the health benefits of new air pollution standards, have sparked sharp criticism from environmental and public health groups.

But he also has struck a more conciliatory tone with career employees at the agency, emphasizing that he once served in their ranks and that he values their service. He also has postponed some of Pruitt’s more controversial regulatory plans, including one relaxing emissions rules for long-haul trucks that place older engines in newer bodies, known as glider kits.

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Just this week, Wheeler announced a plan to impose stricter limits on nitrogen oxide emissions from heavy duty trucks, winning praise from both the trucking industry and the American Lung Association.

Wheeler stands a strong chance of winning Senate confirmation, through his nomination is still likely to spur a serious debate. He won approval for his current job in April on a 53-45 vote, with just three Democrats supporting his nomination. At the time, several Democratic senators questioned his past for Murray Energy, one of the nation’s biggest coal companies, as well mining firms and other energy interests.

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