President Donald Trump tapped Andrew Wheeler to be administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an agency the Butler County native has been acting head of since July.
Trump unexpectedly announced his decision Friday at a White House ceremony where he was awarding the presidential Medal of Freedom to seven honorees. Citing Wheeler’s attendance at the ceremony, Trump said he would nominate him to be the permanent EPA director.
“Congratulations Andrew,” Trump said. “Great job, great job. Thank you very much.”
Environmentalists were quick to criticize the choice and vowed to wage a tough Senate confirmation battle. As a Washington lobbyist before joining the Trump administration, one of Wheeler’s clients was Murray Energy Corp., one of the largest coal-mining companies in the United States.
“As acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler has pushed policies that would damage our health and environment,” said Ana Unruh Cohen of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “He doesn’t deserve a promotion.”
Wheeler, 53, is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Trump named him acting director after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to resign.
In an interview this summer with the Dayton Daily News, Wheeler acknowledged “one of my clients was a coal company. I had over 20 clients, and a coal company was one of my clients.”
“I get frustrated with the media when they report I was a coal lobbyist,” he said. “Yes, I represented a coal company, but I also represented a cheese company. I represented a lot of different businesses, a lot of different interests.”
The Senate earlier this year confirmed Wheeler as deputy EPA director with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, supporting the nomination and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, opposing him.