WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump said Friday that Andrew Wheeler, the former congressional aide and lobbyist who has led the Environmental Protection Agency since the scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt resigned earlier this year, is his pick to permanently lead the agency.
The president made his intentions known during a ceremony honoring the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“He’s done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him,” Trump said as he searched for Wheeler in the crowd of cabinet officials and honorees who gathered at the White House.
Wheeler replaced Pruitt in July after the former EPA administrator finally bowed to a series of ethics scandals and other missteps that dogged his time at the agency.
Wheeler, Pruitt’s deputy at the time, quickly stepped in to take over the role. The president’s announcement means the next stop for Wheeler is senate confirmation – again. He was confirmed by the Senate in April, 53-45.
His rise to the deputy role wasn’t entirely smooth sailing, however. As a former coal lobbyist for Murray Energy Corporation – the largest privately held coal company in the United States – environmentalists widely panned the appointment, saying Wheeler would be unable to divorce his special interests in the coal industry from his role overseeing the EPA.
Murray Energy’s CEO Robert Murray threw the company’s support behind Trump’s administration early on, seizing onto the president’s pro-coal agenda.
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an environmental and public lands nonprofit advocacy group, said the decision to appoint Wheeler as permanent head of EPA is one that would “only come from a president hell-bent on rolling back public health and environmental regulations.”
“In normal times, a zealous fossil fuel apologist and the top official in charge of protecting children’s health from pollution would be two separate people with conflicting agendas. But this is the Trump administration, where a former top coal lobbyist could become administrator of the EPA,” Cook said.
As acting administrator, Wheeler has enjoyed a far quieter tenure at the EPA than his predecessor, avoiding ethics investigations and related congressional oversight hearings.
But like Pruitt, Wheeler’s agenda has often leaned toward deregulation.
Since July, the acting administrator has proposed rules that rollback fuel efficiency standards for cars and he has overseen a reversal of rules created to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.