“Andrew Wheeler is unlikely to shift the agency’s direction. In fact, Wheeler’s years working in both the federal government and the private sector mean he could be even more effective than his predecessor.”

Denise D. Morrison, Acting President, AFGE National Council of EPA Locals #238

During the past three months, Trump’s newly minted acting Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler, has been stealthy while preparing for his eventual succession after the embattled and lavish Scott Pruitt.

These days, what does it cost to be a so-called moderate Democrat? We may not know before the November midterms. Back on April 12, by a 53-45 vote, three moderate Senate Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana joined Republicans to confirm Andrew Wheeler to become #2 at the EPA, or as John O’Grady, the now retired former President of AFGE Council #238, coined it on March 14, 2018 in The Hill the “Business Environment Protection Agency.”

So, what would qualify him to further President Donald Trump’s deregulation agenda? For starters, he is an ex-coal lobbyist who is also ardently loyal to Pruitt’s mandate. Wheeler could be more disciplined than Pruitt since cutting his teeth as a zealous lobbyist and champion for fossil fuels. Certainly, Wheeler’s adeptness has also primed him to surgically circumvent regulations and evade government transparency.

Until 2017, Wheeler served as a top faithful lobbyist to Murray Energy, a large coal company. Its’ CEO, Bob Murray, was one of President Donald Trump’s most avid campaign supporters in the fossil fuel industry and showed excessive influence with this White House. At the time of Wheeler’s confirmation, Wheeler tried to distance himself from the deregulatory action plan that Murray Energy’s gave to the Trump White House soon after the inauguration.

“Wheeler could be more disciplined than Pruitt since cutting his teeth as a zealous lobbyist and champion for fossil fuels. His adeptness also has primed him to surgically circumvent regulations and evade government transparency.”

At his senate confirmation hearing, Wheeler claimed not to have a copy of the memo. When Senator Sheldon Whitehouse pressed if he could produce the “action plan,” Wheeler cited “client confidentiality.” Then the Senator pivoted, “Well, we also have disclosure interests when you’re a candidate for a federal position. Are you asserting there is attorney-client privilege between you and the Murray Energy Corporation with respect to the three-page plan?” Wheeler confessed that he only “saw it briefly” and could not recall what the document contained. Next, Whitehouse countered, “I think the American people are entitled to an EPA that is not following a coal company’s three-page plan but is following wherever the best interests of the American people lead, where the real science leads,” Whitehouse added.

Wheeler claiming immunity from a non-disclosure agreement with his former mining client Murray Energy is remarkable, especially during a federal confirmation hearing. Like Pruitt’s indifference to enforce laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, it was similarly jarring to think that a federal agency, eventually with Wheeler at the helm and tasked with protecting public health and the environment for nearly 50 years, would be a third of the way to fulfilling a deregulation blueprint written to defend one of America’s largest domestic coal producers.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-MA, called Andrew Wheeler’s coal credentials “without equal. He is, without question, a member of the coal industry’s Hall of Fame.” By elevating Wheeler to replace (Scott) Pruitt, he said, “the EPA is only trading one fossil fuel friend for another.”

Is Wheeler any greater of a threat to Americans’ health, cleaner air and cleaner water resources than Pruitt was? Will the new, acting EPA Chief remediate toxic Superfund sites in all 50 states any less arbitrarily or with more vigor than his predecessor? As the Agency’s acting Chief, it remains his responsibility to ensure EPA meets its obligation to regulate industry emissions.

If Wheeler wonders what will meet him at every turn, I can assure you that the Save the U.S. EPA Campaign won’t ease up. After all, Politico dubbed Wheeler a “smooth insider with a penchant for policy details and a reputation for working well with both friends and adversaries.” But those who have dealt with him say he’s every bit on board with the same broad, deregulatory agenda that Pruitt and Trump were pursuing.

Now, with Scott Pruitt in the rearview mirror, the proverbial fox hasn’t left the henhouse. Andrew Wheeler is unlikely to shift the agency’s direction. In fact, Wheeler’s years working in both the federal government and the private sector mean he could be even more effective than his predecessor.

Denise D. Morrison is the Acting President of AFGE National Council of EPA Locals #238, which is spearheading the Save the U.S. EPA campaign.