Senate Panel Approves Coal Lobbyist For No. 2 Role At EPA

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As a lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler worked on behalf of companies like coal giant Murray Energy.

Fossil fuel advocates were pleased to see Andrew Wheeler as President Donald Trump's pick for deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency - he is a former coal industry lobbyist who is heralded by industry insiders as a good choice for undoing Obama administration initiatives seen as harmful to fossil fuel companies.

Despite blatant conflicts of interest - Wheeler counted coal giant Murray Energy as a client - the former lobbyist squeaked by in a close committee vote Wednesday and is one step closer to assuming the number two spot at the EPA.

The 11-10 vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee, along party lines, sets up former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler for a potential vote in the full Senate once GOP leaders schedule it.

The Environment Committee voted in November to confirm Wheeler. But Democrats objected to the GOP’s attempt to carry over Wheeler’s nomination at the end of the year, instead sending it back to Trump, who re-nominated him.

Republicans championed Wheeler as a man with the right experience to help bring Trump's regulatory rollbacks to fruition:

“He’s proven himself to be a well-qualified, experienced and dedicated public service,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the panel’s chairman. “We all know that Mr. Wheeler will make an invaluable contribution to the nation’s public health and safety as deputy administrator of the EPA.”

But Democrats harbor concerns over Wheeler's independence from industry interests, citing the very same experience:

“I believe that members of this committee and members of the public deserve more clarity about whether the Trump administration will be guided by science and the law or by Mr. Murray’s demands,” said Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the committee’s top Democrat.