How the New Acting EPA Chief Differs From Pruitt

click to enlarge Former head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has submitted his resignation to President Trump. - GABRIELLA DEMCZUK/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times
Former head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has submitted his resignation to President Trump.

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.

But unlike Pruitt — who had come to Washington as an outsider and aspiring politician, only to get caught up in a swirl of controversy over his costly first-class travel and security spending — Wheeler is viewed as a consummate Washington insider who avoids the limelight and has spent years effectively navigating the rules. For that reason, Wheeler’s friends and critics alike say, he could ultimately prove to be more effective than his controversial former boss in implementing President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda.

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.

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