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GOP Slammed for 'Shameful' Vote as Ex-Coal Lobbyist Andrew Wheeler Confirmed as EPA Chief

"Senate Republicans have officially put a coal lobbyist in charge of protecting our children from the dirty air and toxic water created by his corporate polluting clients."

Andrew Wheeler

Senate Republicans confirmed ex-coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday.  (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Environmental and public health advocates on Thursday sharply condemned Senate Republicans for a "shameful" vote confirming ex-coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Instead of handing him a promotion, the Senate should investigate Wheeler's ties to the fossil fuel industry and halt his dangerous and destructive policies."
—Ariel Moger, Friends of the Earth

"With Andrew Wheeler-dealer at the helm, it's truly time to rename EPA the 'Environmental Pollution Agency,'" declared Martin Hayden, vice president of policy and legislation Earthjustice.

Hayden accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republicans of putting "the wealth of a few over the health of the many by confirming the coal industry's favored Wheeler-dealer to what used to be the leading environmental enforcement post in the federal government."

Wheeler has served as the agency's acting administrator since his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, stepped down in July while facing several ethics scandals. Since President Donald Trump announced Wheeler's nomination early last month, critics have warned that he "will continue Pruitt's toxic legacy."

Under Wheeler's watch, the EPA has dramatically cut fines against polluters and worked to roll back fuel efficiency standards as well as carbon and mercury emissions rules.

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Elizabeth Gore of the Environmental Defense Fund told the Washington Post that those who voted for Wheeler were well aware of the consequences.

"Unlike with some nominees, we do not have to speculate about what Mr. Wheeler will do in office," she said. "From his actions as acting administrator for the past eight months, we have clear evidence of his agenda: undermine rules to limit toxic mercury, allow more smog and water pollution, and roll back protections against the threat of climate change. The senators who voted to entrust Mr. Wheeler with our environment know exactly what he will do with that power."

"Senate Republicans have officially put a coal lobbyist in charge of protecting our children from the dirty air and toxic water created by his corporate polluting clients," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "With each rollback, Wheeler is stacking the deck in favor of the polluting corporations who formerly employed him, leaving our families to pay the price of more toxic pollution with their health."

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) both voted against Wheeler after backing him for the deputy role last year. However, their reversals on Thursday weren't enough to block his nomination, which was approved 52-47 with no Democrats voting in favor and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) not voting. Now, Wheeler officially holds the top spot for crafting and implementing regulations imposed on the very industries he used to represent.

"Instead of handing him a promotion, the Senate should investigate Wheeler's ties to the fossil fuel industry and halt his dangerous and destructive policies," Ariel Moger of Friends of the Earth said ahead of his confirmation. "A vote for Wheeler is a vote against the environment and for Big Oil."

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