Trump picks coal lobbyist for EPA deputy role, drawing mixed reaction

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Thursday named Andrew Wheeler, a coal industry lobbyist and former congressional staffer, as his pick for deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, prompting contrasting reactions from industry and environmental groups.

The Sierra Club, an environmental group, called his nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, “absolutely horrifying,” while a coal industry group and some Republican politicians said he was well qualified for the job.

The EPA said in a statement Wheeler had spent four years at the agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics during the George H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as many years on Capitol Hill, including as counsel for conservative Republican Senator James Inhofe.

It said he currently works as a principal at FaegreBD Consulting, “providing guidance on federal regulatory and legislative environmental and energy issues.”

Inhofe said in the statement that no one is more qualified than Wheeler to help EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “restore EPA to its proper size and scope.”

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry lobby group, called Wheeler extraordinarily qualified for the job, saying in a statement: “His understanding of a wide range of environmental policies and the policy development process — combined with his thoughtfulness, judgment and temperament — will enable him to be an outstanding Deputy Administrator.”

But the Sierra Club called his nomination “absolutely horrifying,” adding in a statement: “Andrew Wheeler is a big time lobbyist who has represented Big Coal for almost a decade, including in numerous lawsuits challenging the EPA. He is a friend to polluters, not to American families that rely on clean air and clean water.”

Pruitt led 14 lawsuits against the agency when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, and has said he is not convinced that carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change, a position widely embraced by scientists.

He was appointed by President Donald Trump, a climate change doubter, who campaigned on a pledge to boost the U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries by reducing regulation.

He also promised to pull Washington out of a global pact to fight climate change, which he did in June.

Reporting by Eric Walsh