US President Donald Trump on Wednesday formally nominated Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
The nomination of Wheeler, who is currently the acting EPA chief, requires Senate confirmation.
Wheeler, 54, has been the interim agency administrator since Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid a flurry of ethics scandals, including over excessive spending of federal funds while in office.
If confirmed, Wheeler is expected to pursue Trump’s agenda of rolling back environmental regulations put in place by the Republican leader’s predecessor Barack Obama.
Among the measures taken under Trump are the scrapping of anti-pollution rules for coal-fired power plants and the launch of a procedure to soften emissions standards for cars after 2025.
That makes Wheeler a popular choice for the energy industry itself – and a disastrous candidate for environmental activists.
‘Putting a coal lobbyist like Andrew Wheeler in charge of the EPA is like giving a thief the keys to a bank vault,’ the Sierra Club, a top environmental defense group, said in November.
‘He should be swiftly rejected by any senator who cares about protecting the health of their constituents.’
In November, Trump had vowed to push Wheeler’s nomination forward, saying he was doing a ‘fantastic job’ as acting EPA chief.
The EPA is also looking to roll back clean water rules protecting the nation’s waterways and wetlands, fulfilling a pledge from Trump to farmers.
The agency has also proposed looser restrictions on mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants.
All of these measures will take years to implement. Deregulation is just as time-consuming as instituting regulations. And some of the EPA proposals have been met with court action designed to block them.
Wheeler, 54, launched his career at the EPA as a lawyer, before heading to Congress as a Senate staffer. As a lobbyist, he represented coal producers, as well as companies in the chemical and uranium industries.