With Scott Pruitt’s departure from the Environmental Protection Agency, a former aide to Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe will rise to take the agency’s helm.
Pruitt will be replaced by Andrew Wheeler, who served as EPA’s deputy administrator. Wheeler served 14 years with Inhofe’s staff on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“Andrew Wheeler is the perfect choice to serve as Acting Administrator,” Inhofe said in a statement issued after Pruitt announced his resignation on Thursday.
“Andrew worked for me for 14 years, has an impeccable reputation and has the experience to be a strong leader at the EPA,” Inhofe said. “I have no doubt and complete confidence he will continue the important deregulatory work that Scott Pruitt started while being a good steward of the environment. I applaud President Trump for placing him in this position.”
Inhofe has made a name for himself as a global warming skeptic who challenged many of the costly environmental regulations put forward by the Obama administration. Environmentalists are unhappy with Inhofe’s influence at EPA.
Pruitt resigned amid numerous investigations into alleged ethics violations and misuse of taxpayer dollars. White House staffers had been pushing for his resignation for months, arguing he could be replaced by Wheeler.
Calls for Pruitt’s resignation had only intensified in recent months, including some in conservative media. Inhofe himself expressed concerns over mounting scandals, but he said those concerns were alleviated after meeting with Pruitt in person in June.
However, Pruitt’s downfall is somewhat of a silent coup for Inhofe since his former staffer will now head the agency. Inhofe staffers already occupy many key positions in EPA. (RELATED: Scott Pruitt Blames ‘Unrelenting Attacks’ Against Him, His Family In Resignation Letter)
EPA Chief Of Staff Ryan Jackson, for example, worked for Inhofe as did Susan Bodine, the head of EPA’s Office of Enforcement.
Bodine served as chief counsel to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works while Inhofe was chair. EPA Deputy Chief of Staff Byron Brown also served as counsel while Inhofe chaired the committee.
EPA Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategic Communications Daisy Letendre served as Inhofe’s communications director. Wheeler also served in the Bush administration EPA and lobbied for the coal company Murray Energy.
While conservative groups support Wheeler, some are worried Pruitt’s resignation could slow the progress made in rolling back Obama-era regulations and reforming how EPA works.
“I think there will be a temporary setback, but it’s the President’s agenda, not Pruitt’s, and I think Andrew Wheeler is fully committed to implementing that agenda,” Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition team, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
EPA is still in the process of repealing key Obama administration regulations, including the Clean Power Plan and the “waters of the United states” rule. Those repeal efforts will likely move forward, but other deregulatory efforts could fall by the wayside — at least in the near-term.
“My guess is that it will be full speed ahead at EPA after the shock wears off,” said Ebell, the director of energy and global warming policy at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute.
President Donald Trump said Pruitt had done “an outstanding job inside of the EPA” when announcing the embattled former administrator’s resignation. Trump also took time to praise Wheeler while talking to reporters.
“His deputy has been with me actually a long time,” Trump said. “He was very much an early Trump supporter. He was with us on the campaign. He is a very environmental person. He’s a big believer, and he’s going to do a fantastic job.”
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