Andrew Wheeler, who has served as acting administrator at the EPA since July, said during his Senate confirmation hearing that he would push to repeal environmental protections put in place by President Barack Obama and intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change and threatening the planet.
“I would not call it the greatest crisis,” Mr Wheeler said when asked if climate change is a major concern. However, he added that was an "issue that has to be addressed globally”.
Before taking over as acting administrator, Mr Wheeler served as a deputy for former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who was forced to resign last year amid criticism for his misuse of government resources.
During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Democrats focused in on Mr Wheeler’s time leading the EPA, as well as his history of lobbying on behalf of energy companies that have made huge sums of money through the burning of fossil fuels.
When asked by Senators Ed Markey and Bernie Sanders for his view on climate change, Mr Wheeler said that he believes that it is an important one, but not an issue that should be solved by government regulations.
“You are putting up a smokescreen to ensure there is an advancement of Donald Trump’s dirty policies,“ Mr Markey told Mr Wheeler at one point. ”That’s why it is relevant that you are a former coal industry lobbyist”.
Mr Wheeler’s career actually started at the EPA, where he served from 1991 until 1995 during the administrations of George HW Bush and Bill Clinton.
From there, Mr Wheeler spent more than a decade as a top aide for Republican Senator Jim Inhofe — mostly as a chief council and staff director for the senator on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Mr Inhofe is a well-known climate change denier, and has advocated for reduced environmental regulations.
Mr Wheeler then left public service to become a lobbyist for the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, according to Senate lobbying disclosure records. During that time, he represented Murray Energy, a coal company that paid Mr Wheeler’s firm between $166,000 and $599,000 each year from 2009 until 2017, according to a data analysis from the Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP).
Notably, Murray Energy was a top revenue source for Mr Wheeler’s firm, and donated handsomely to President Donald Trump’s inauguration fund. Just after Mr Trump's election, the chief executive of Murray Energy — which paid Mr Wheeler to lobby against climate change mitigation policies and regulations on greenhouse gas emissions — gave that fund $300,000, according to CRP. That executive, Robert Murray, also reportedly gave the president a wish list of coal industry regulations he would like to see repealed.
Mr Wheeler is expected to be easily confirmed at the next EPA administrator, in spite of Democratic opposition.
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