Virginia Democrats aim to block Trump's EPA chief from state agency

WASHINGTON – A rare confirmation battle is brewing around the appointment of Andrew Wheeler, who headed the Environmental Protection Age...

WASHINGTON – A rare confirmation battle is brewing around the appointment of Andrew Wheeler, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald J. Trump, to play a similar role in a new Republican state administration in Virginia.

Democratic leaders have said they will try to stop Mr Wheeler from taking over conservation programs, environmental clean-up and climate change initiatives like the ones he opposed as administrator of the EPA.

Resistance to Mr Wheeler began to build moments after his appointment as natural resources secretary was announced Wednesday by Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who will take the oath January 15th.

Republicans took control of the House of Delegates in November, but Democrats retain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate. They could block Mr. Wheeler’s confirmation if all Senate Democrats vote against him.

It would be one of the few times in recent history that a governor’s choice has been overturned in a state where polite politics have long been the norm.

Democratic lawmakers said Thursday that Mr Wheeler’s former job as a coal lobbyist and the role he played at the EPA in reversing federal air and water pollution protections were grounds for contesting his appointment.

“Our governors tend not to nominate people for these positions that are so polarizing,” said Scott A. Surovell, Democratic Senator for the state of Northern Virginia. “I can’t think of a candidate over the past 20 years who has had the level of a controversial story like this guy.”

Mr Surovell, who is vice chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus, said he was unsure whether there were enough votes to defeat Mr Wheeler’s nomination. But he said he had received text messages all day from colleagues who expressed astonishment at Mr. Youngkin’s choice.

“I think there is a real chance that he will be defeated if Governor-elect Youngkin continues to insist on his appointment,” Surovell said.

Mr. Wheeler, who lives in Virginia, did not respond to an email seeking comment. A spokesperson for Mr. Youngkin also declined to comment.

In a statement announcing his appointment of Mr. Wheeler as well as Michael Rolband as state director of environmental quality, Mr. Youngkin said, “Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio to fuel our economic growth, the continued preservation of our natural resources and a comprehensive plan to combat rising sea levels. Andrew and Michael share my vision in finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia a stable, reliable and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s electricity demands without passing the costs on to the consumer.

In September, Wheeler testified before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Va., Against a proposed 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, calling the plan “misguided.”

“Appointing someone like Wheeler is dangerous and reckless,” said Connor Kish, legislative and policy director for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group. Mr Kish said the section was launching a direct lobbying effort to stifle Mr Wheeler’s confirmation, the first time in his memory that the group had done so for a state-level candidate.

Yet despite opposition to his policies, Mr Wheeler was also briefly a balm at a time of great anguish over the EPA when he took the lead in 2018 after his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned amid federal ethics inquiries. Having started his career at the EPA in the 1990s before working in the Senate for more than a decade, Mr. Wheeler was considered a technocrat who did not seek the limelight and focused on advancing programs. of his bosses.

“It’s going to be a very, very stable hand,” said Michael Catanzaro, an energy lobbyist and partner at consulting firm CGCN Group who served in the Trump administration.

“Will he implement the policies desired by the governor?” Yeah, ”Catanzaro said. “The environmental community isn’t going to like it, but they should at least have some respect for Andy and his decades of experience working on energy and environmental issues.”

Mr Youngkin has previously said he wants to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon market involving 10 other states in the northeast and central Atlantic. Virginia recently completed its first full round of quarterly carbon auctions, which generated approximately $ 228 million in revenue that Virginia has designated for flood protection and clean energy programs in low-income areas. .

Legal experts said it was not clear whether Mr Youngkin could unilaterally remove Virginia from the initiative because her participation was permitted by state law.

The legislature also passed the Clean Economy Act of 2020, which commits Virginia to transitioning the electricity grid to 100% carbon-free power by 2050. Democratic lawmakers have said they fear Mr Wheeler will try. to slow down or weaken the implementation.

“I am very concerned that he will not only block but actively undermine the bill,” said State Senator Jennifer McClellan, Charles City County Democrat and architect of the Clean Economy Act. She said the law helped Virginia rank 5th nationally for solar power growth.

Ms McClellan declined to say whether she would vote against Mr Wheeler, but said she had concerns “I’m not sure he can overcome it.”

The last time the Virginia General Assembly rejected a nomination was in 2006, when Republicans opposed Gov. Tim Kaine’s nomination of Daniel LeBlanc as Commonwealth Secretary, Cale Jaffe said, director of the Environmental Law and Community Engagement Clinic at the University of Virginia School. of the law.

“It is historically rare for the General Assembly to oppose the choices of a governor’s cabinet, but it is not without precedent,” he said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Virginia Democrats aim to block Trump's EPA chief from state agency
Virginia Democrats aim to block Trump's EPA chief from state agency
Newsrust - US Top News
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