Andrew Wheeler promoted to EPA administrator in 52-47 Senate vote

Andrew Wheeler was confirmed to head up the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday after a 52-47 Senate vote that mostly stayed within party lines.

A former coal industry lobbyist, Mr. Wheeler was promoted from his position of acting director with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing him.

Mr. Wheeler has been serving as acting director of the EPA since July after President Donald Trump’s nominee, Scott Pruitt, left after accusations of lavish spending, ethical violations and allegations of misconduct, including reports that Mr. Pruitt asked the president to fire Jeff Sessions and name him attorney general instead.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said in a statement he was “pleased” that Mr. Wheeler was confirmed.

“Andrew has displayed a strong commitment to protecting the environment, while also providing businesses, local governments, and landowners greater certainty in the EPA’s programs through the agency’s deregulatory actions,” Mr. Cruz said. “This translates to billions of dollars in savings in regulatory costs for Americans across the country.”

Senate Democrats questioned Mr. Wheeler during a confirmation hearing in January about his plans to scrap climate-change rules created under former President Barack Obama, reduce mercury emission standards and relax clean water regulations.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, opposed the nomination, saying that under Wheeler has “not only failed to respond to this emergency the agency has taken actions that risk exacerbating the effects we’re already seeing.”

“From the weakening of the Clean Power Plan, to his disregard for climate science, to his clear conflicts of interest as a former fossil fuel lobbyist, acting Administrator Wheeler’s priorities and actions are inconsistent with the policies we need to protect our environment,” she said.

The only Republican senator to vote against Mr. Wheeler was Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, who said he was “qualified” for the position, but thought many of his policies “are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation.”

Many environmental groups oppose Wheeler’s nomination as well, criticizing Wheeler’s undoing of Obama administration rules that would fight climate change in favor of oil and gas.

“It’s a sad day for public health and the EPA, but mission accomplished for the fossil fuel and chemical industries,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. “They have longed for one of their own to call the shots at the agency, and now they finally have their man in Andrew Wheeler.”

Wheeler ended Mr. Obama’s Clean Power Plan, allowing states to set their own guidelines on greenhouse gas emissions. He also changed a regulation from 2015 that gave “much needed flexibility” for coal plants’ waste disposal.