Andrew Wheeler testifies at his confirmation hearing in January.

Andrew Wheeler testifies at his confirmation hearing in January. Andrew Harnik/AP

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Senate Confirms Acting EPA Chief Wheeler as Permanent

Sen. Susan Collins is lone Republican to vote "no."

President Trump has one fewer temporary Cabinet official to defend against his critics now that the Senate on Thursday has voted to confirm acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler for the permanent post.

The controversial former lobbyist was approved 52-47, with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine as the sole Republican to vote against him.

Wheeler was named acting EPA administrator in July, following the resignation of Scott Pruitt, who left the administration amid a number of ethics scandals. Wheeler initially had been nominated to be deputy EPA administrator, and was confirmed in April by a vote of 53-45.

He served at EPA more than two decades ago, before becoming an adviser to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. In recent years, he was a lobbyist at Faegre Baker Daniels, and among his clients was the coal mining company Murray Energy. Trump officially nominated him on Jan. 9.

The day before the vote, Collins put out a statement saying, “I believe that Mr. Wheeler, unlike Scott Pruitt, understands the mission of the EPA and acts in accordance with ethical standards; however, the policies he has supported as acting administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation.”

By contrast, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, tweeted that Wheeler as acting EPA head “has prioritized commonsense policies that protect our air and water, while allowing our economy to grow. I look forward to working with ...[him] in his new role.”

Wheeler also won plaudits from a coalition of 11 conservative groups led by the Heartland Institute, which said in a letter to senators, “Wheeler is supremely qualified to continue the outstanding record of accomplishment at the EPA under President Trump.” The agency has “finalized 33 deregulatory actions at a savings of almost $2 billion to Americans, removed 22 sites from the Superfund National Priorities List–nearly eliminating the backlog of chemical submissions and registration actions that have festered for many years, and helped finance more than $4 billion in water infrastructure projects.”

Environmental and transparency advocates were highly critical. The Project on Government Oversight in January had faulted Wheeler for having held a 2017 fundraiser for Barrasso, who presided over his confirmation. “Despite President Trump’s campaign pledge to 'drain the swamp,' his administration hasn’t heralded any major changes to slow the revolving door between government and special interests—if anything, the administration has opened the door much wider than the previous administration for lobbyists to become top political appointees,” POGO wrote in a Jan. 15 research article. “Meanwhile, lobbyists continue to buy influence with lawmakers through political donations. With Wheeler, both of these long-criticized ways of the swamp come together in one nomination.”