Like predecessor, Trump's new EPA pick favors meetings with industry

(Reuters) - Acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s pick to run the agency permanently, held nearly 20 times more meetings with industry representatives than with conservationists during his first two months on the job, according to a copy of his schedule.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler addresses staff at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen/File Photo

The industry focus fits neatly with the administration’s efforts to reduce environmental red tape for companies, but could add fuel to criticism from Democrats that Wheeler - who is due to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in the coming days - is too cozy with the industries he oversees.

Wheeler, a longtime Washington insider, took the reins at EPA in July after his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned in a storm of controversy over his high spending on first-class travel, round-the-clock security and office equipment.

During his first several weeks on the job, Wheeler met 18 times with industry representatives, including executives from BP, Valero, FedEx Corp, Monsanto, a unit of Bayer, and the American Fuel Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association, according to the newly released record of his schedule.

Wheeler met just once with a non-governmental conservation group, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, according to the schedule, which covers July and August and was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Sierra Club.

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said Wheeler had met with a “diverse range of stakeholders” and added that Wheeler is “happy to meet with those who actually request meetings.”

Pruitt also held the vast majority of his meetings with industry representatives, according to his public schedule.

But in Wheeler, Trump has seen another strong supporter of his deregulatory agenda and advocate for the fossil fuels industry without the constant criticism over alleged ethical violations that plagued Pruitt.

Wheeler had worked at the EPA in the 1990s and later in the Senate under Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, from the oil-rich state of Oklahoma and a skeptic of mainstream climate science, before moving to the private sector as a lobbyist and consultant.

Wheeler has said that he is “not at all ashamed” of his lobbying for the coal company Murray Energy Corp, which he has said focused on securing the pensions of miners.

Wheeler also lobbied for utility Xcel Energy Inc and consulted for biofuels industry group Growth Energy, agricultural merchant and biofuels producer Archer Daniels Midland Co and International Paper Co, according to his public disclosures.

During a Senate hearing on his nomination last month, Wheeler said he did not believe climate change was “the greatest crisis” and defended the agency’s moves under Trump to roll back Obama-era measures to fight global warming.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler