“The nomination of lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protect Agency is deeply worrisome for the agency that protects our health and environment. Wheeler has devoted his career lobbying for major polluters, especially Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies, which has been repeatedly cited for illegal pollution.
“The Senate must carefully investigate whether Mr. Wheeler will be permitted to push the interests of the lobbying firm and corporations that have paid his firm millions of dollars over the last decade. Mr. Wheeler will be required to sign the ethics pledge announced at the beginning of the Trump administration but there is good reason to believe that exercise will be a sham.
“On its face, the ethics pledge would require Mr. Wheeler to recuse himself for two years from all decisions that impact issues on which he has lobbied for these companies. The intent is to avoid putting a lobbyist in a position to do favors for his former lobbying firm and their clients. But because Wheeler represented so many polluting industries, any honest implementation of the pledge would likely prevent him from dealing with a broad swath of issues before EPA until almost the end of the president’s term. That is clearly not what President Trump has in mind for the number two official at EPA – who could, if Scott Pruitt is forced from office, run the agency for an extended period of time.
“Instead, it seems highly likely they will use the expansive waiver provision in the ethics pledge to allow Mr. Wheeler to participate in decisions that affect the profits of his long time clients.
Given that one of his major clients has a specific wish list
of EPA actions that would result in huge increases in air and water pollution, this is a deeply serious issue for the American people.
“Mr. Wheeler has sent a letter to EPA ethics officials, in which he describes steps he will take to avoid these conflicts of interest. But the promises he makes in the letter are essentially meaningless if he obtains an ethics waiver after he is confirmed by the Senate. In other words, he can work on nearly any issue – even those that relate to his former clients – by taking a few administrative steps.
“Senators must demand a promise from Wheeler, in writing, that he will abide by the two year restriction on engaging in matters that might benefit his firm and his former clients, and that no waivers will be granted to circumvent those restrictions. That promise must include any time Mr. Wheeler spends as acting administrator of EPA.
“Without those assurances in writing, we can expect that Wheeler will serve at EPA with an agenda written by the country’s biggest polluters. No senator should vote on Mr. Wheeler’s confirmation until the public can be assured that the health of their families will not be endangered in this way.”
--Jeremy Symons, Senior Advisor, EDF Action