Senate confirms acting EPA chief for permanent role

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The Senate has approved Andrew Wheeler as the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Senators voted 52-47 on Thursday to confirm Wheeler, who was nominated by President Donald Trump after former administrator Scott Pruitt resigned under pressure previous year.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) both voted against Wheeler after backing him for the deputy role past year.

And the list of regulations Wheeler has overseen in his short tenure as the acting administrator is ever growing.

His confirmation adds yet another member to President Donald Trump's Cabinet who as recently as 2017 was on the payroll of the industries he now regulates. The former coal lobbyist was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 47. In January, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan took over as acting secretary of defense after James Mattis' abrupt departure.

"Through our deregulatory actions, the Trump Administration has proven that burdensome federal regulations are not necessary to drive environmental progress", Wheeler said at his confirmation hearing. Collins supported that measure but will vote against his nomination.

"Throughout his career, Andrew Wheeler has shown a clear disregard for the EPA's mission to protect the public and environment", said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein from California, after voting against him.

And Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, said Wheeler's "extensive experience" had prepared him to serve as the nation's top environmental official.

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Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate environment committee, called Wheeler "uniquely qualified" and said the EPA under Wheeler is putting forward proposals that "both protect our environment and allow the country's economy to flourish".

"These efforts are of great importance to the state of ME, which is located at the end of our nation's "air pollution tailpipe" and is on the receiving end of pollution generated by coal-fired power plants in other states", she said.

Wheeler's record-breaking reign as acting administrator was marked by an unprecedented assault on greenhouse gas regulations amid historic wildfires and hurricanes that scientists say offer a preview of the rapidly warming world to come. "RFA looks forward to continuing to work with him to implement a strong Renewable Fuel Standard, make year-around E15 a reality and to fix the damage done as a result of the unprecedented number of small refiner waivers granted by his predecessor". As a result, many Americans born after the mid-1970s have never experienced average temperatures unaffected by human-caused emissions.

The world has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial levels, and a United Nations report last fall concluded that humans need to cut their carbon emissions almost in half over the coming decade to stave off the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

In response, Wheeler, despite admitting he hadn't read the multiagency report, dismissed its findings and threatened to intervene in the drafting of the next National Climate Assessment. He proposed loosening requirements that coal-fired power plants reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He capped off the month by announcing plans to relax a rule restricting how much mercury and other unsafe pollutants coal-fired plants can release into the air.

A bipartisan group of senators has also pressured Wheeler to take stronger actions to control a group of toxic chemicals found in some USA drinking water known as PFAS, used in Teflon and firefighting foam.

While Wheeler doesn't outright deny climate change, he has also downplayed its urgency during his time in the Trump administration.

"Wheeler wants to turn the EPA into a wish-granting service for polluters, no matter the cost to public health or wildlife".

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