WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday confirmed the appointment of Andrew R. Wheeler as a director of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was monitoring the nation's air and water to a former coal lobbyist and an insider. Washington.
The confirmation formalized a role that Mr. Wheeler has held in the interim since the summer, when Trump's first director, Scott Pruitt, resigned following multiple ethics investigations.
The vote, 52-47, focused on political parties and highlighted partisan divisions prompted by the Trump Administration's continued commitment to repeal Mr. Wheeler's environmental regulations.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to vote against Wheeler.
"The policies that he has supported as an interim administrator are not in the interest of our environment and our public health, especially given the threat of climate change to our country," he said. said Senator Collins.
Nearly eight months after assuming Pruitt's reputation for fighting, analysts said Wheeler had made a change in behavior at the agency, but virtually no difference in terms policy orientation compared to its predecessor.
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Jonathan H. Adler, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University Law School, described Mr. Wheeler's soft-spoken style and his willingness to listen to critics as sincere. But that will not mean that his priorities will suddenly disappear or that he will suddenly abandon the regulatory philosophy adopted by the administration since the summit. "
"It's an administration that wants to reduce the overall regulatory footprint of the federal government," said Mr. Adler.
Republicans said they were delighted to find that Mr. Wheeler was as enthusiastic as Mr. Pruitt to repeal environmental regulations and promote coal.
"He was a very good follower of Scott Pruitt," said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist. "He followed quite aggressively everything that Scott started."
Wheeler has worked to significantly weaken two of President Obama's climate change initiatives, emissions from power plants and automobiles, while proposing to facilitate the approval of new coal-fired power plants.
It also sought to identify the legal justification for reducing toxic mercury emissions from power plants, to limit the federal protection of small waterways and to fire a group of independent scientific advisers.
Some of the biggest climatic setbacks are expected to be finalized in the coming months. This is likely to trigger a series of lawsuits by Democratic-ruled states and environmental activists who have vowed to fight dismantlement.
Mary D. Nichols, who heads the California Air Quality Agency, said she was directly affected by the dissonance between Mr. Wheeler's behavior and his actions.
In the spring of 2018, relations between the state and the Trump administration were at their lowest among a quarrel over California's right to set more stringent auto emission standards than those set by the federal government. Mr. Pruitt had virtually no engagement with Ms. Nichols. At one point, she asked him on Twitter about "Call me maybe? "
So, about a week after Pruitt's resignation, when Mr. Wheeler called his office at the California Air Resources Board, Nichols said she was encouraged.
"He wanted to make sure I knew he was going to be more open and approachable than his predecessor," Ms. Nichols said. Nevertheless, negotiations continued to stagnate.
"Everyone was polite, it was a welcome change," she said. "But there was no difference in policy."
The White House announced last week that the E.P.A. and the Ministry of Transport had terminated negotiations with California on its clean air exemption. This decision indicates that the administration is about to finalize its rule to lower the exhaust emission standards that were put in place under President Barack Obama and will likely attempt to revoke the ability of the California to establish its own rules on pollution.
"I must say that I do not find it materially different from Scott Pruitt in his policy or mission," said Nichols. "The only difference is that he's more polite and more professional."
On climate change, Wheeler has also adopted a calibrated tone that contrasts with his policies.
Unlike Mr. Pruitt, who said on television that carbon dioxide was not a major factor in global warming and that rising temperatures could be beneficial to humanity, Mr. Wheeler said to a Senate confirmation panel in January that "climate change is real. its level of concern about climate change, on a scale of 1 to 10, 8 or 9.
But, two weeks he later named John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who said the Earth would benefit from more warming emissions from the planet, to an influential EPA Scientific Advisory Board.
And asked if he intended to work with Congress to end the ban on chlorpyrifos – an insecticide associated with developmental delays and cognitive impairment in children – that Mr. Pruitt , acting against the advice of its own experts in chemical safety, chose not to remove the use – Mr. Wheeler assured the legislator in a written statement that the agency was " determined to fully evaluate this pesticide using the best available scientific data. "
However, the organization under the leadership of Mr. Wheeler had already challenged a decision of the Court of Appeal of the ninth circuit ordering the minutes E.P.A. to ban the pesticide. This month, the court ruled in favor of the challenge and ordered a new hearing in the case.
E.P.A. officials did not respond to a request for comment on this article.
Mr. Adler said that Mr. Wheeler's experience in Washington helped him avoid brandishing red flags in front of lawmakers. But ultimately, he said, Mr. Wheeler is determined to stick to the president's agenda.
"There is a tendency to assume that if someone is reasonable, he will agree with you," said Mr. Adler. "Wheeler has a very conservative view of environmental regulation and how it should be managed, and is fully in line with the regulatory philosophy of this administration."
Emily Cochrane contributed to the report.
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