What to know about Andrew Wheeler, who will take Scott Pruitt's place as acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency

  • After months of ethics scandals, Scott Pruitt resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday.
  • In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump announced Pruitt’s resignation and said deputy EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler would take his place for now.
  • Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist, and some experts think he could be more effective at undoing environmental protections than Pruitt was.

After months of ethical and financial scandals, Scott Pruitt has resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt’s long list of scandals included reportedly sending his staffers out in search of pricey beauty creams, spending high sums on first-class flights, instituting a 24-hour security detail, and purchasing an infamously expensive $US43,000 phone booth, all on the public’s dime.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that Pruitt had done an “outstanding” job leading the EPA, and that deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler will become acting administrator of the EPA starting Monday.

“He was very much an early Trump supporter,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One, referring to Wheeler. “He was with us on the campaign. He is a very environmental person. He’s a big believer, and he’s going to do a fantastic job.”

Pruitt’s agenda for the EPA involved delays and rollbacks of previously enacted environmental regulations, so environmentalists cautiously cheered his resignation while expressing concern about Wheeler.

“While we applaud Pruitt’s departure, our focus now shifts to acting administrator and coal industry crony Andrew Wheeler,” Erich Pica, president of the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. “Fossil fuel industry insiders have no business leading the EPA and we will hold Wheeler accountable for his efforts to harm our public health and environment.”

Wheeler’s path to the EPA

Wheeler, a Washington University law school graduate, spent the first four years of his career at the EPA under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. At that time, he was a special assistant in the Pollution Prevention and Toxics office, working on issues involving pollution and chemicals.

Since then, Wheeler has zig-zagged between lobbying Capitol Hill and working inside the halls of the federal government. On the lobbying side, he has worked for big names in the beltway energy sector, including Murray Energy (coal), Domestic Energy Solutions Group, Whirlpool Corporation, Xcel Energy and at least a dozen others, which ProPublica lists online.

Most recently, Wheeler worked for law firm Faegre Baker Daniels as an attorney, consultant, and co-chair of the firm’s Energy and Natural Resources Industry team, according to Wheeler’s EPA biography.

On the governement side, Wheeler has worked as chief of staff for Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and on staff for Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) as well.

He held several roles on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from 2003 to 2009: majority staff director, minority staff director, and chief counsel.

According to a biography posted on ProPublica’s website, Wheeler worked on “every major piece of environmental and energy-related legislation before Congress for over a decade.”

For example, he worked for the Committee on Environment and Public Works when the Clear Skies Act of 2003 was proposed, which aimed to reduce restrictions on toxins in the air. He was also there for the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which raised taxes on oil and gas producers in the US.

Wheeler doesn’t deny the scientific facts of climate change, but said during his confirmation hearing that the human impact on the Earth’s rising temperature is “not completely understood,” as Inside Climate News reported.

Scott Segal, a fossil fuel lobbyist who has worked with Wheeler, told The New York Times: “He’s a careful, studious person. A quiet fellow. He knows the agency very, very well.”

Many environmentalists are fearful about what that savvy perspective might mean for the future of the EPA. The agency is tasked with protecting the nation’s air and water, but the Trump administration has pushed to undo a host of environmental regulations.

Jeremy Symons, vice president for political affairs at the Environmental Defence Fund, put it bluntly to Politico:

“Wheeler is much smarter and will try to keep his efforts under the radar in implementing Trump’s destructive agenda,” Symons said, comparing Wheeler to Pruitt. “That should scare anyone who breathes.”

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