WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate confirmed Thursday former coal industry spokesman Andrew Wheeler, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, despite Democrats and a Republican worries about the regulatory cuts that he has made in eight months as acting head of the agency.
Senators voted 52-47 to confirm Wheeler, who had been appointed by President Donald Trump after the resignation of former administrator Scott Pruitt amidst a series of ethical allegations.
Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Chair of the Senate Environment Committee, described Wheeler as "unique talent" for leading the EPA and said the Wheeler agency was putting forward proposals that "Protect our environment and allow the country's economy to prosper". "
But Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, said that Wheeler was failing to protect the environment and human health and had been "appointed to unravel and undo the environmental protections currently in place."
Wheeler, 54, was confirmed as a deputy administrator last April and became acting chief in July after Pruitt's resignation. He worked at the EPA early in his career and was one of the main collaborators of the Senate Environment Committee before becoming a lobbyist ten years ago.
Senator of Maine, Susan Collins was the only Republican to oppose Wheeler. She said in a statement that, unlike Pruitt, Wheeler "understands the mission of the EPA and acts in accordance with ethical standards." However, the policies that he has supported as an interim administrator do not are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, especially given the threat of climate change to our nation. "
Collins stated that she was particularly concerned that the EPA had proposed to remove the rules governing mercury emissions from power plants and decided to replace the Clean Power Plan, the proposed signing of former President Barack Obama to fight climate change.
Former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt
"There is no doubt that greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change pose a significant threat" to Maine and the country, Collins said, adding that pollution from coal-fired power plants is threatening the natural resources of the country. Maine ", our managed forests, fishing and agriculture, industries, tourism and recreation".
Democrat Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who supported Wheeler's nomination as a Member of Parliament last year, voted against his promotion.
Wheeler did not make "significant progress" on clean water standards, said Manchin, citing the fact that the agency had not limited the amount of highly toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water in West Virginia and in the country.
The EPA has announced its intention to impose legal limits on chemicals, but has not yet done so. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively known as PFAS, have been associated with health risks ranging from cancer to decreased fertility.
"I think that immediate action must be taken and that these efforts lack a sense of urgency," Manchin said.
Like Collins, Manchin said he is concerned about EPA's attempt to undo the rules designed to limit mercury emissions, which could harm the brains of infants and children. young children.
Environmental groups have criticized Wheeler, saying that if his behavior was "less caricatural" than that of Pruitt, he supported the same policies.
"Wheeler wants to make EPA a service that allows polluters to meet their wishes, regardless of the costs to public health or wildlife, but it's only a matter of time before his dirty dealings place him in the same bin as its predecessor, "said Emily Knobbe, EPA policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group based in Arizona.
America's Power, a trade group that represents coal producers, applauded Wheeler's confirmation.
"During his tenure as interim director, Andrew Wheeler has been viewed as a thoughtful leader who understands the need for sound environmental policies," said Michelle Bloodworth, president and chief executive officer of the group. Wheeler's extensive experience in the public service demonstrates her integrity in the mission of the EPA, "she said.