Confirmation vote coming for new EPA Administrator

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to take over permanently as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

He is likely to get a favorable recommendation as Republicans control the committee and outnumber Democrats who believe Wheeler has too many potential conflicts of interest to run the agency once commanded by former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Wheeler’s a long-time friend of Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and spent 15 years as one of his staffers. Inhofe calls him “Andy.” After spending time at the EPA in the early 90s during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, Wheeler moved to the Senate helping Inhofe administer the Senate EPW committee.

Last month, Sen. Inhofe introduced Wheeler at his confirmation hearing.

“He knows what it takes to ensure that our environment is cared for within the laws passed by Congress, he will ensure that all stakeholders are heard, and he will provide certainty and stability for the regulated community,” said Inhofe. “Andy has worked on these issues for his entire 28-year career, I am honored that he chose to spend half of that time with me and I believe the US Senate benefited from his leadership and I know America will as well.”

Democrats and environmentalists have a late concern about Wheeler as Politico reported Monday it had found previously undisclosed documents about a deputy in Wheeler’s office where he is acting administrator of the EPA. It concerns PFAS chemicals which are “Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances.” They are man-made chemicals found in food-packing, commercial household products and drinking water and can reportedly harm human health.

Here’s how Politico reported it findings:

EX-KOCH OFFICIAL SHAPING PFAS MOVES: Former Koch Industries official David Dunlap, now a deputy in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, has played a key role behind the scenes as the agency decides how to tackle toxic PFAS chemicals, Pro’s Annie Snider reports this morning.

Previously undisclosed documents obtained by POLITICO show Dunlap — who spent eight years as Koch Industries’ lead expert on water and chemical regulations and is now the top political official in the EPA research office — began working on the issue almost immediately upon arriving at EPA in October. His role raises conflict of interest concerns, greens said, since Koch subsidiary Georgia-Pacific has used PFAS in some of its products and is facing at least one class-action lawsuit related to contamination from the chemicals.

Dunlap’s calendars show he participated in nine PFAS meetings in his first six weeks on the job, including an Oct. 22 briefing with Wheeler, chief of staff Ryan Jackson and other top political officials as the agency was crafting its management plan for the chemicals. That plan has drawn pushback from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate after POLITICO reported it will not set a drinking water limit for the two best-understood PFAS.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware said Dunlap’s hiring only adds to his concerns about the Trump administration’s handling of the chemicals, especially as Wheeler aims to take on the role of EPA administrator. 

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