President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted he viewed a plan developed by a top coal producer to roll back environmental regulations at the agency and attended meetings on Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants.
Testifying at his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Andrew Wheeler said Murray Energy was one of his lobbying clients while working at the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. But Wheeler said he de-registered himself as a Murray Energy lobbyist in August.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), in his questioning of Wheeler, said Robert Murray, the head of Murray Energy, “has said that he has a three-page plan that is being implemented by Scott Pruitt at the EPA. He said they’re already through the first page.”
Wheeler, who previously worked on the staff of a top congressional climate science denier, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), acknowledged seeing a copy of Murray’s “action plan” earlier this year. Murray said he provided the plan to Trump in January to help the struggling coal industry. “I did not work on that [plan] or have a copy of that memo,” Wheeler said. “I saw it briefly at the beginning of year but don’t have possession of it. I looked at it.”
Whitehouse contended it’s significant if the CEO of a coal company “has given his regulator a three-page plan” and “takes credit for having gotten through the first page of it already.”
With Wheeler’s nomination, “We have a candidate for deputy administrator who said he’s seen it and can confirm it exists. 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,” Whitehouse said.
Since Trump took office, Murray has repeatedly met with administration officials, including at least three times with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Murray has also met with Perry, whom Murray pressed for an executive order to keep coal plants from closing.
Wheeler told the Senate panel that he met with the Department of Energy on behalf of Murray a few months ago about Perry’s proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. He said he also participated in a Capitol Hill meeting on the proposal, which Perry sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for implementation.
Politico reported Monday that Perry’s proposal to change the nation’s electricity markets would provide a windfall for a small group of companies, including Murray Energy. The narrowly written plan would mostly aid power plants in a part of the Midwest and Northeast where Murray Energy is the primary coal supplier, according to Politico.
The Sierra Club said it strongly opposes Wheeler’s nomination to the No. 2 position at the EPA. “Wheeler was not only a key D.C. advocate for the coal industry, but also a former aide for outspoken climate-denying senator James Inhofe,” Matthew Gravatt, Sierra Club’s associate legislative director, said in a statement Wednesday.