After months of mounting scrutiny over his spending habits and alleged ethical lapses, Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a move President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets.
Enter Andrew Wheeler, a longtime Washington lobbyist for energy companies, who now steps in as the interim administrator of the EPA. He appears to have Trump’s confidence.
“I have no doubt that Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda,” Trump said in a tweet. “We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”
Wheeler, confirmed as Pruitt’s deputy in April, joined the EPA from Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, where he was a nonequity partner. While he lacks Pruitt’s national profile, his work in the private sector on behalf of energy companies was well known to—and criticized by—environmental advocates. He could get the nod for the permanent secretary post, or Trump could look elsewhere.
What follows are highlights from public records and statements about Wheeler:
➤➤ Wheeler was a nonequity principal at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting and formerly co-leader of the firm’s energy and natural resources practice. Wheeler identified his salary and bonus at the firm as $741,074, an amount that would include income from 2016 and 2017, according to the financial disclosure. He joined Faegre Baker Daniels in 2009. Some of his lobbying clients includes Sargento Food Inc., Underwriters Laboratories and Xcel Energy. Wheeler said he provided “strategic advice and counseling” to General Mills, Archer Daniels Midland, International Paper and Growth Energy.
➤➤ One of Wheeler’s top lobbying clients: Murray Energy, the largest coal mining company in the country. Murray Energy’s chief executive, Robert Murray, opposed the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions. Murray sent Vice President Mike Pence a proposed “action plan” to reinvigorate the coal industry—or, as he put it, “getting America’s coal miners back to work.” The action plan called for eliminating the Clean Power Plan and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, a move the Trump administration later made. A case challenging the Clean Power Plan is on hold in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The appeals court appears to be getting antsy with the continued delay. “Over a year has passed since we first held in abeyance our decision in this case—and nearly two years since oral argument. I will join in one further abeyance, but I am writing to apprise the parties that it is the last one that I am inclined to grant,” Judge Robert Wilkins wrote in an order.
➤➤ Wheeler filed papers with the Office of Government Ethics in June certifying his compliance with the ethics pledge he made in October 2017. Under that pledge, Wheeler agreed to resign from Faegre Baker Daniels and to not participate for a year in any matter involving a client of the firm’s—unless he received a waiver. Wheeler’s compliance certificate, signed on June 1, does indicate that he is recusing from certain matters that involve either his law firm or former clients. Wheeler indicated he has not received any ethics waivers. In a handwritten note, Wheeler wrote on his compliance checklist: “I do not have any financial conflicts of interest.”
➤➤ “He will be similar to Pruitt in terms of the agenda—he understands the Trump administration and will carry out the agenda,” Matt Dempsey, managing director of strategic communications at FTI Consulting, told The New York Times. “But he’s been around Washington a long time. He knows how D.C. works and he does things by the book.” Dempsey, a lobbyist for energy companies, worked with Wheeler in the office of Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican. The NYT profile noted that Wheeler in 2016—in a now deleted Facebook post—criticized Trump. “He has demonstrated through the debates and interviews that he doesn’t understand how government works,” Wheeler reportedly said in the post.
➤➤ At his confirmation hearing, Wheeler did not concede that human activity has driven the warming of the earth more than other factors. “I believe that man has an impact on the climate but what’s not completely understood is what the impact is,” Wheeler said at his hearing.
Wheeler’s financial disclosure is posted below: