President Donald Trump said Friday he plans to nominate Andrew Wheeler to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, installing the former coal lobbyist permanently in a position he’s filled in an acting role since July.
Speaking at a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, Trump said: “Acting administrator, who I tell you is going to be made permanent, he’s done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him.”
If you could design the ideal character to assure the continuing domination of Big Coal and Big Oil in America and to reaffirm their faith in their God-given right to cook the climate in pursuit of profit, that character would look a lot like acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. And the odd thing is, if you met “Andy,” as his many friends call him, at one of his popular Halloween parties at his brick house in suburban Alexandria, Virginia, you would probably think he was a great guy. He’s 53, gray hair, glasses, a stout Midwesterner with a warm and friendly manner. He is unfailingly civil to everyone, no matter if you are right, left, enviro or Oklahoma wildcatter. He is likely to ply you with homemade Cincinnati chili or tell you about his hike up Mount Kilimanjaro or remind you that when he worked in the U.S. Senate some people called him “the Werewolf.” You might notice he’s wearing socks with little penguins on them, as he often does. And if you make a joke that connects the penguins on his socks with the disappearing ice in Antarctica due to the fossil fuels burned by his pals in the oil and coal industry, he will probably just laugh. “Andy’s a hard guy not to love,” says Chris Hessler, a lobbyist and former Senate staffer who has known Wheeler for more than a decade.
But make no mistake, Wheeler is one of the most skilled regulatory hitmen the fossil-fuel industry has ever deployed. Compared to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, his clownishly corrupt and incompetent predecessor, Wheeler is a no-nonsense professional, a man with vast experience in the dark corners of the Senate who can crawl through the most fetid lobbyist dungeons and emerge with the name of the right congressional staffer to call to tweak a bill that’s heading for the floor. Pruitt, on the other hand, who had come to Washington from the wilds of Oklahoma, was almost comically ineffective at rolling back the laws he made such a show of attacking as he embroiled himself in no fewer than 13 scandals during his 18-month tenure.
Wheeler won’t make the same mistakes. “Under Trump, the EPA’s mission is to deliver for the Republican Party’s fossil-fuel overlords,” Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse tells me in an e-mail. “Under Wheeler, I don’t think that will change.” What will change is his mission plan. “Wheeler is the embodiment of the anti-regulatory ‘deep state’ in Washington,” says Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit advocacy organization Environmental Working Group. “His goal is not just to roll back the environmental progress made under President Obama, but to weaken and deconstruct the entire regulatory system at the EPA. He’s playing the long game. And that’s exactly what makes him so dangerous.” [Continue reading…]