October 23, 2018 / 8:29 PM / 25 days ago

Trump says EPA acting chief 'doing well,' may become permanent

FILE PHOTO: Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler speaks during an event hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump with workers on "Cutting the Red Tape, Unleashing Economic Freedom" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, was doing a good job and could be nominated to permanently take on the role.

“He’s acting, but he’s doing well, so maybe he won’t be so acting so long,” Trump said at an event alongside Wheeler.

Wheeler took the reins at EPA after the agency’s former head, Scott Pruitt, resigned in July following a slew of ethical controversies that included his first-class travel, round-the-clock security detail, and expensive office equipment.

Pruitt had aggressively moved to roll back Obama-era climate regulations and other environmental protections to unfetter the oil and coal mining industries.

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

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

He has said that he is “not at all ashamed” of his lobbying for the coal company Murray Energy Corp, the focus of criticism by environmentalists. Wheeler also lobbied for utility Xcel Energy Inc (XEL.O) and consulted for biofuels industry group Growth Energy, agricultural merchant and biofuels producer Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N), and International Paper Co (IP.N), according to his public disclosures.

He has been in the job in an acting capacity for more than 100 days, one of the longest tenures for an acting chief at the agency in decades. The next permanent EPA administrator must be nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

Wheeler has said that EPA, under his leadership, would take the same course as under Pruitt, prioritize cleaning up industrial Superfund sites - areas contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup due to a risk to health and/or the environment - and financing investments in water infrastructure.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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