New EPA Boss Same as the Old Boss: Pruitt Policy to Stay Intact
After Wheeler left Capitol Hill in 2009, he took on a cadre of lobbying clients, eventually leading FaegreBD Consulting's energy and environment practice group. His job was dedicated to advocating for chemical manufacturer Celanese Corp., uranium miner Energy Fuels Resources Inc., utility holding company Xcel Energy Inc. and other clients.
Wheeler lobbied the Trump administration last year to take emergency action to shore up coal-fired power plants on behalf of coal producer Murray Energy Corp. Wheeler also arranged at least one meeting last March between the company's chief executive officer, Robert E. Murray, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to press for regulatory actions, according to newly disclosed correspondence.
Wheeler says he is recused from administration deliberations over possible intervention to stem the closing of coal and nuclear power plants, including at least one interagency meeting.
He allows that he "probably could" get involved under the terms of a recusal statement that allows him to sometimes participate in particular matters of general applicability, but he vowed not to since he lobbied on the issue.
Wheeler has a dry humor and a highly cultivated skill for listening to colleagues and subordinates, said Matt Dempsey, a former Senate staffer who also worked for Inhofe. Wheeler knows how to "avoid problems" and "work with people" to achieve enduring changes, Dempsey said.
"He's trying to make dramatic changes -- but ones that will stick," Dempsey said. "The kind of change he's bringing is long-lasting."
Some conservatives worry that Wheeler's deep ties to the EPA -- and his respect for the institution -- could discourage him from broadly overhauling the agency and its policies.
"Andy's principal advantage is that he has a deep and historical knowledge of many of the issues facing the agency," said Republican energy strategist Mike McKenna. "His principal challenge will probably be the need to balance concern for the institution with a desire to execute the president's agenda."
Although Wheeler collaborated with Democrats in the Senate to pass highway bills and water infrastructure legislation, some of his biggest environmental policy achievements may be in what he blocked from happening. For instance, he helped kill legislation to put a cap on carbon dioxide emissions in 2008 by emphasizing how the proposal could bolster the cost of energy, making any vote to support it politically risky as gasoline prices spiked.
Wheeler appears to share none of the personality traits and habits that got Pruitt into hot water.
Message to the Staff
Unlike Pruitt, who was faulted for not consulting with EPA's career employees, Wheeler has sought them out. And he has drawn on his EPA history to try and win trust amid staff cutbacks and concerns the agency is retreating from the fight against climate change.
In a message to EPA employees on Thursday, Wheeler said he was "both humbled and honored to take on this new responsibility at the same agency where I started my career over 25 years ago."
"I look forward to working hard alongside all of you to continue our collective goal of protecting public health and the environment on behalf of the American people," he said.
While Pruitt toured the country to highlight big policy initiatives for farmers and oil drillers, Wheeler eschews the limelight with a humility cultivated by years on Capitol Hill, where congressional aides know their role in meetings is often to hug the wall, not take a seat at the table.
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