Senate Confirms Wheeler as EPA Chief


The Senate has recently confirmed that former coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, is to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite concerns about Wheeler’s regulatory rollbacks, votes concluded 52-47 in favor of President Donald J. Trump’s nominee.

Wheeler had been acting as intermin chief, after former administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July 2018 amidst allegations of improper spending of taxpayer money, self-dealing and inappropriate use of staff.

However, Wheeler has been working with the EPA since very early in his career; he was a top aide at the Senate Environment Committee before becoming a lobbyist over a decade ago and prior to Pruitt’s resignation, was appointed deputy administrator in April 2018. His official appointment as chief has been met with mixed reactions.


Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and chairman of the Senate environment committee, said he believes that Wheeler is “uniquely qualified” and that he has already put forward proposals that will “both protect our environment and allow the country’s economy to flourish.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and the sole Republican to oppose Wheeler, thought otherwise. She has been quoted saying that, unlike Pruitt, Wheeler “understands the mission of the EPA and acts in accordance with ethical standards. However, the policies he has supported as acting administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation.”

Collins was particularly concerned about the weakened federal rules on released greenhouse gases from power plants and fuel standards for the nation's cars and trucks.

In agreement with Collins, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who supported Wheeler’s duty nomination in 2018, was another who voted against his recent promotion.

Manchin stated that he was concerned about the EPA’s attempt to unravel the rules designed to limit mercury emissions, as these can damage the brains of infants and young children. “I believe immediate action must be taken, and these efforts lack a sense of urgency,” Manchin concluded.

What Now

Now that Wheeler is confirmed, industries are now looking to upcoming plans, such as an outline that's expected for the “Federal Lead Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures and Associated Impacts (Lead Action Plan)," which aims to be a blueprint for reducing lead exposure and related harm by working with states, local communities, businesses, property owners and parents.

That plan was released in December 2018, just months into Wheeler's acting tenure, along with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and U.S. Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

“The Federal Lead Action Plan will enhance the Trump Administration’s efforts to identify and reduce lead contamination while ensuring children impacted by lead exposure are getting the support and care they need,” said Wheeler at the time.

“[The] EPA will develop an implementation plan by March 2019 that will enable us to track our progress and update the public as we work to carry out the action plan and mitigate childhood lead exposure."

The plan outlines four goals, which include:

  • Goal 1: Reduce children’s exposure to lead sources;
  • Goal 2: Identify lead-exposed children and improve their health outcomes;
  • Goal 3: Communicate more effectively with stakeholders; and
  • Goal 4: Support and conduct critical research to inform efforts to reduce lead exposure and related health risks.



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