Virginia’s Youngkin Taps Former Coal Lobbyist for Top Environmental Job

Andrew Wheeler served as Donald Trump’s EPA chief.

As head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler downplayed the threat of climate change and human impact on the environment. Al Drago/CNP/ZUMA

This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Incoming Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has chosen Andrew Wheeler, the controversial Donald Trump-era Environmental Protection Agency chief and former coal lobbyist, to serve as his secretary of natural resources.

In a statement announcing the Cabinet pick, Youngkin said Wheeler shares his vision for “finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, dependable and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s power demands without passing the costs on to the consumer.”

“Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio in place to fuel our economic growth, continued preservation of our natural resources, and a comprehensive plan to tackle rising sea levels,” Youngkin said.

Wheeler was a key figure in the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda, rolling back numerous environmental rules to the benefit of polluting industries, and has a long history of downplaying the threat of climate change. Shortly after being confirmed as head of the EPA in 2019, for example, Wheeler falsely claimed that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

Wheeler has served on Youngkin’s transition team since November. News of his appointment to the secretary post, which Politico first reported Wednesday, drew swift backlash from state Democrats and environmental groups.

“As head of EPA under former President Trump, Wheeler did nothing more than cater to corporate polluter interests time and time again, putting their welfare ahead of our environment and Americans’ health,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “This is hands down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the Governor-elect could make.”

US Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) slammed Wheeler as “an anti-environment ideologue” and “one of the worst people the Governor-elect could have chosen for this job.”

“He led the Trump Administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental protections, selling out the American people and the EPA’s very mission to benefit corporate polluters,” Beyer said in a statement.

Beyer noted Wheeler’s silence in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. As HuffPost previously reported, Wheeler wrote in an email to agency staffers the day after Trump supporters violently stormed the Capitol that he was “completely disgusted” by the event, but planned to stay on at the EPA until President-elect Joe Biden‘s inauguration. He did not publicly condemn the attack.

Unlike other Trump officials who resigned following the insurrection, Wheeler “stood by Trump and refused to criticize him,” Beyer said. It remains to be seen if Wheeler’s nomination can survive the confirmation process. Democrats hold a 21-19 majority in Virginia’s state Senate.

“I know he’s new to Virginia government and all but @GlennYoungkin does understand cabinet secretaries require General Assembly approval ― right?” state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) wrote on Twitter.

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