Andrew Wheeler, the new acting administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, is a rank-and-file member of Washington’s revolving door.
His former boss Scott Pruitt, who resigned last week, was an outsider to Washington. Wheeler, on the other hand, started his career out of law school at the EPA, where he served from 1991 to 1995 during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. He has remained around Washington ever since.
Wheeler worked for over a decade as a top aide for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a skeptic of climate change, on environmental policy and helped to reduce government regulations on industries that create greenhouse gases. Most of his time on Capitol Hill was spent as Inhofe’s chief counsel and staff director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
He then used his environmental policy experience to become a lobbyist for the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, where he represented energy companies such as coal producer Murray Energy, which was his best-paying client. The coal-mining company paid his firm between $160,000-$559,000 annually from 2009 through 2017, according to CRP’s records.
Murray Energy is privately owned by Robert Murray, whose company donated $300,000 to President Trump’s inauguration. Wheeler lobbied against climate change policies and the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions when he represented Murray Energy. As recently as March 2017, Wheeler set up a meeting between Murray and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to advocate for the rollback of environmental regulations and protect the fluctuating coal industry, according to The Washington Post.
Confirmed as EPA’s deputy administrator in April, Wheeler wasn’t always a Trump man.
In 2012, Wheeler was one of thirteen lobbyist bundlers who raised $545,000 for Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign.
Then in 2016, as an environmental adviser for Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, Wheeler wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post that “(Trump) really hasn’t been that successful” as a businessman, POLITICO reported. “[H]e has more baggage then all of the other Republican candidates combined … he is a bully. This alone should disqualify him from the White House.”
Wheeler’s former clients also include Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium-mining firm that could benefit from Trump’s announcement last year to cut in half the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. Wheeler had lobbied the administration about the issue in the months before the announcement.
In the past, Wheeler also represented Whirlpool, Sargento Foods, Underwriters Laboratories, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Coalition for Domestic Medical Isotope Supply and Insurance Auto Auctions, according to OpenSecret’s lobbying profile on Wheeler.
In 2010, he questioned the science behind the policy suggestions made by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. When asked about his views on climate change during his confirmation process, Wheeler said, “I believe that man has an impact on the climate but what’s not completely understood is what the impact is.”
However, his time in Washington appears to have made him more likely than Pruitt to work with those across the aisle.
In his first email to EPA employees last week as acting administrator, Wheeler said he looked forward to working toward the “collective goal of protecting public health and the environment on behalf of the American people.”
Wheeler’s statement stands in contrast to the first remarks Pruitt made to his staff, which focused on reigning in regulations.
Regarding Wheeler’s openness to working with Democrats, a Democratic aide who worked with him on Capitol Hill told POLITICO that Wheeler was “someone who, generally on policy, though we might not always agree, is someone who will listen to the other side of the aisle on how we formulate policy.”