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Former Lobbyist Considered for EPA Head01/16 06:11

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew 
Wheeler's past lobbying work for coal companies and other industries regulated 
by the agency is expected to draw scrutiny Wednesday when a Senate committee 
considers his nomination to the position.

   Wheeler's roughly six-month tenure as the agency's acting administrator has 
been far more low-key than that of the man he replaced, Scott Pruitt. Pruitt's 
fondness for the perks of power and for alleged favors --- from round-the-clock 
bodyguards to lavish travel to special deals on mattresses from the Trump 
International Hotel --- generated constant headlines and helped lead to 
Pruitt's resignation as the agency's administrator in July.

   In line with Trump's regulation-cutting ethos, the agency under Wheeler has 
moved forward on major rollbacks and pending rollbacks of Obama-era 
environmental measures: easing the mileage standards that cars and trucks will 
have to meet, relaxing measures on climate-changing carbon emissions from 
coal-fired power plants and removing millions of miles of wetlands and 
waterways from federal protections, among other changes.

   Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Environment and 
Public Works Committee that will hear from Wheeler on Wednesday and question 
him, said earlier this month that Wheeler had done an "outstanding" job running 
the EPA.

   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some energy trade groups are among the 
industries publicly supporting Wheeler's nomination.

   "Wheeler has proven to be a steady hand, and has demonstrated effective 
leadership while advancing regulatory reforms alongside continued strong 
environmental protections," Chamber of Commerce executives said in a statement.

   But environmental groups say his lobbying work immediately before, for 
industries regulated by the EPA, should disqualify him outright.

   "A coal lobbyist is unfit to run the EPA, period," said Matt Gravatt, 
associate legislative director at the Sierra Club.

   Wheeler worked at the Washington law and lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels 
from 2009 until April 2018, according to his filing with the Office of 
Government Ethics.

   His lobbying clients included coal magnate Bob Murray, who pushed hard on 
the Trump administration to grant a series of breaks for the sagging domestic 
coal industry. Wheeler accompanied Murray to a March 2017 meeting to pitch 
then-new Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Murray's list of desired rule rollbacks 
and other breaks from the Trump administration for coal.

   Murray had sought some of the EPA's coal initiatives under Wheeler, which 
included signing a rule easing federal regulation of toxic coal ash, removing 
an Obama rule that pushed electricity providers to move away from 
dirtier-burning coal plants and targeting an Obama rule limiting emissions of 
toxic mercury from coal plants.

   A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, 
filed an ethics complaint Tuesday with the EPA's Office of the Inspector 
General alleging that Wheeler's oversight of those and other rollback proposals 
at EPA may have violated his government ethics pledge to abstain from 
regulatory decisions affecting his former lobbying client for at least two 
years.

   "His failure to abide by ethics obligations and to avoid the reality or 
appearance of conflicts critically undermines the EPA's integrity and weakens 
public confidence in our government," CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder 
said in a statement.

   EPA spokesman John Konkus called the accusation "baseless" and "wrong."

   "Acting Administrator Wheeler works closely with career EPA ethics officials 
and follows their guidance. This is nothing more than a last-second political 
stunt by a group to try to attack President Trump's nominee hours before his 
confirmation hearing and should be recognized as such," Konkus said.

   Conservation and environmental groups said Wheeler should also be pressed at 
Wednesday's hearing on the environmental and public health effects of the EPA's 
proposed regulatory easing.

   "It's imperative the senators ask the tough questions about his role in the 
decisions and the impact he's going to have" on health and safety, said Collin 
O'Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

   Conservation groups objected this week to the Republican-controlled Senate 
committee holding Wheeler's nomination hearing during the government shutdown 
over Trump's funding dispute with Congress.

   The grandson of a coal miner, Wheeler worked for the EPA in the 1990s and 
later as a longtime staffer for Senate Republicans.


(KA)

 
 
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