Editor's note: This post was updated on July 5, 2018, after the resignation of Scott Pruitt.
Scott Pruitt’s resignation as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency means that former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler will be leading the agency as acting administrator.
Those breathing a sigh of relief that Pruitt is gone might want to hold their breath.
Making things worse, Wheeler’s tenure as acting administrator could be lengthy, given the closely divided Senate and the controversial policies of the Trump administration in this area.
Wheeler spent years as an energy industry lobbyist
Here’s the bottom line: Andrew Wheeler running the EPA would go far beyond having an administrator overly influenced by lobbyists. We would have an actual energy industry lobbyist in charge.
On Wheeler’s client list was Murray Energy, one of the worst corporate citizens in America.
Working for a big lobbying firm, Faegre Baker Daniels, Wheeler lobbied on behalf of energy companies for nearly a decade, including Murray. He earned more than $3 million in income for his firm from the large coal mining company.
His coal mining client paid millions in fines
Since Wheeler began lobbying for Murray Energy, the company has paid millions in fines and penalties for contaminating waterways in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania with coal slurry and discharge, and for other health and safety violations.
In 2010, Murray Energy contaminated the Captina Creek in Ohio for the fourth time since 2000, with coal slurry. According to the Columbus Dispatch, coal slurry from Murray Energy spilled into the creek in 2000, 2005 and 2008.
In 2015, federal regulators accused Murray Energy of attempting to silence whistleblowers and said that “Murray Energy chided 3,500 workers for making too many confidential safety complaints to regulators and – at one of the mines – threatened to retaliate by closing down operations.”
As Wheeler’s client, Murray Energy created an “action plan” for EPA that called for overturning rules limiting mercury pollution, carbon pollution and air pollution that crosses state lines. It also called for cutting the EPA “at least in half.”
Insider knowledge could make him dangerous
Wheeler’s lobbying list of clients regulated by the EPA is extensive. It also includes corporate names such as Bear Head LNG Corporation, Celanese Corporation, Domestic Fuel Solutions Group, ICOR International and the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Wheeler may not rent a condo from lobbyists, fly first class and bill it to taxpayers, or commit any of the other personal ethical violations Pruitt did – but his agenda appears perfectly aligned with his former boss.
He’s devoted his career to defending the interests of the nation’s largest polluters, as a lobbyist and in jobs on Capitol Hill. As acting administrator, Wheeler will likely use his bureaucratic knowledge to continue to work for the goals of his past clients – with tragic results for our air, water, kids and heath.
That could make him even more dangerous than Scott Pruitt.
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