A former lobbyist for one of the largest U.S. coal mining companies won confirmation to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s No. 2 official, putting him in position to take over the agency, at least temporarily, if embattled Administrator Scott Pruitt were to leave.
Andrew Wheeler, a former Republican Senate staffer whose client list at lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP included coal company Murray Energy Corp., uranium explorer Energy Fuel Resources Inc., and utility giant Xcel Energy Inc., was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday to be EPA’s deputy administrator by a vote of 53 to 45.
Most Democrats were opposed to the nomination, which was already facing resistance from congressional critics who said Wheeler worked to roll back EPA regulations while serving his clients.
They redoubled their efforts to block him given the possibility that Pruitt could resign or be fired in light of recent reports of lavish spending and a questionable condo rental arrangement with a lobbyist.
“He’s never been vetted to be the top job so we’ve got a real problem there,” said Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the appropriations panel that oversees the EPA’s budget. “We could see Scott Pruitt leave in a matter of days.”
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