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The ‘swamp’ in action: GOP advances coal lobbyist for EPA job
By Steve Benen February 7, 2018
The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty
Americans who voted for Donald Trump because they liked his rhetoric about “draining the swamp” should probably avert their eyes – because today’s news is about as swampy as it gets.
Republican senators used their majority to advance President Donald Trump’s nomination of a former coal-industry lobbyist to serve as the second-highest ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Environment and Public Works Committee voted along party lines 11-10 on Wednesday to send the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to the full Senate for a vote.
Let’s back up for a minute to provide some important context. For the last several years, Wheeler was a lobbyist for, among others, Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies and fierce opponent of environmental safeguards. (Murray Energy’s CEO, Bob Murray, has also been a generous Donald Trump donor.)
In addition to his background as a lobbyist for polluters, Wheeler also served as chief counsel for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation’s preeminent climate deniers.
It’s against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it’d be a good idea to put Wheeler in a position to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency – a decision literally every Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed this morning.
The New Republic’s Emily Atkin recently explained, “Wheeler is not just the figurative embodiment of the swamp, but the literal embodiment of it. The coal industry is responsible for 72 percent of toxic water contamination in the United States, making it the nation’s largest water polluter. That’s according to the agency where Wheeler is about to be second in command – the agency that is charged with protecting clean water. There’s no better person to represent how polluted Trump’s swamp has become.”
Wait, it gets a little worse.
Bloomberg Politics noted today that this particular coal lobbyist also “hosted fundraisers for top Republicans on the committee that advanced his nomination Wednesday.”
[L]ast May, while Wheeler was an outside lobbyist for energy companies including coal miner Murray Energy Corp. and uranium explorer Energy Fuel Resources Inc., he helped organize Washington fundraisers for the committee’s chairman and former chairman – Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and James Inhofe of Oklahoma.
The events, first reported by The Intercept and the watchdog group Documented on Wednesday, included a lunch with former Inhofe staffers at a Mexican restaurant in Washington on May 4, 2017, and a breakfast at Wheeler’s K Street office roughly two weeks later.
I can appreciate the fact that this White House has made several ridiculous nominations, especially when it comes to the environment. My personal favorite was Michael Dourson, a man who helped chemical companies fight against chemical safety regulations, only to be nominated by Trump to lead the EPA’s office of chemical safety.
But at least in that case, a handful of Senate Republicans balked and the nomination died. Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s GOP members unanimously agreed to advance Andrew Wheeler’s nomination – despite (because of?) his coal lobbying past.
The nomination now heads to the Senate floor. Watch this space.
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