By Coral Davenport
© 2018 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — The departure of Scott Pruitt, the scandal-plagued former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, means the agency will be led in the coming months by Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who shares Pruitt’s zeal to undo environmental regulations.
Wheeler is expected to serve in an acting capacity as head of the EPA until Trump nominates a new agency chief, who must then be confirmed by the Senate. That process could take months and potentially stretch past the November midterm elections.
In a June interview with the Washington Examiner, Wheeler said he had no interest in taking over his boss’ job.
Wheeler will now step in as the acting chief of an agency that has been central to Trump’s signature campaign promise of stripping away regulations. Many of Pruitt’s policy initiatives have stumbled because of haste or imprecision. At least six have been struck down by the courts.
By contrast, Wheeler’s career was built around quietly and incrementally advancing the interests of the fossil-fuel industry, chiefly by weakening or delaying federal regulations.
Wheeler has worked in Washington for more than 20 years. He is a former chief of staff to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has become known as Washington’s most prominent denialist of the established science of human-caused climate change. More recently, he lobbied for the coal company Murray Energy, whose chief executive, Robert E. Murray, has been a supporter and adviser of Trump’s.
Environmentalists see in Wheeler a powerful ally of polluting industries and enemy of clean air and water.
Washington insiders describe Wheeler as well positioned to pursue Trump’s agenda as effectively as Pruitt, or even more so.
Wheeler is one of a group of former Inhofe staff members, loosely known as the “Inhofe mafia,” who now work in energy and environment policy positions across the Trump administration and in top Washington lobbying firms.