Wheeler’s EPA confirmation hearing opened with friendship but Democrats quickly attacked him

Before he underwent grilling from Democrats, Andrew Wheeler, the President’s nominee to head the EPA was introduced by Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe.

The Senator applauded Wheeler’s nomination when it was made in November of 2018.

“Thank you Mr. Chairman,” said Inhofe in making the introduction. “I would like to introduce my friend Andrew Wheeler and I’m honored he allowed me to do that. I’m very excited about the prospects of taking his temporary job into a permanent job.”

He went on to repeat that he feels no one is more qualified than Wheeler to take the job. The Senator explained that Wheeler came to his office as Chief Counsel and moved to be staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, Wetlands and Nuclear Safety, a subcommittee that Inhofe chaired.

“When Andrew left the Agency, he brought that sense of service and leadership with him to the U.S. Senate where I had a front row seat to his high quality of character and witnessed the dedication he brings to every job and issue,” continued the senator.

“In 2003, when I became chair of this committee, Andy became Chief Counsel. Over the next 6 years, he would eventually become staff director and we worked closely together on highway bills, energy bills, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, the Clear Skies Act and many other pieces of legislation.”

But by the time Democrats had their chance, their criticism was described as fierce as they insisted he was leading a dangerous U.S. retreat from the fight against climate change.

“How does it happen that the nominee to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency does not mention the words climate change at a time when the scientific community thinks climate change is the greatest environmental crisis facing the planet?” asked Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats. “Should the American people have confidence that you’re going to help us deal with this global crisis?”

Wheeler replied: “Yes, they should have confidence, because we are moving forward to reduce CO2.”

“Mr. Wheeler is certainly not the ethically bereft embarrassment that Scott Pruitt proved to be,” said Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware. However, “Mr. Wheeler’s environmental policies appear to be just as extreme as his predecessor’s.”

The nominee’s remarks were briefly drowned out by protesters chanting “Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA,” from activists outside the hearing room’s thick wooden doors — a nod to the stalemate over spending that has shuttered roughly a quarter of the federal government for weeks.

“Why are you pulling back on regulations that ultimately help us to deal with what your climate scientists say we need to do in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions?” asked Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey.

 

Pressed to detail his views on climate change — and his commitment to addressing it — Wheeler declined Sanders’ invitation to label the phenomenon “greatest crisis facing our planet.”

“I would not call it the greatest crisis,’’ Wheeler said. “It’s a huge issue that has to be addressed globally.’’ Wheeler nevertheless later said he was an eight or a nine on a 10-point scale of concern about climate change.

Republicans and Democrats alike pushed Wheeler to address U.S. biofuel mandates, as corn interests and oil companies spar over the issue. Wheeler stressed that his agency has limited room to maneuver in fielding applications from small refineries seeking exemptions from annual biofuel blending quotas.

Democrats questioned whether Wheeler has sufficiently avoided issues involving his former lobbying clients, including chemical manufacturer Celanese Corp., coal producer Murray Energy Corp., uranium miner Energy Fuels Resources Inc., and utility holding company Xcel Energy Inc.

But Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota suggested Wheeler’s industry past shouldn’t disqualify him. Rather, it may have well prepared Wheeler to lead the agency, Cramer said.

“Should we bar farmers from being the secretary of agriculture? Should we bar doctors from being the head of Health and Human Services? Or attorneys from being attorney general, or bankers from being head of the Treasury Department?’’ Cramer asked. “This is a funny path.’’

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