Gov.-elect Youngkin nominates Andrew Wheeler, EPA chief under Trump, for Virginia’s natural resources secretary

Virginia News

In this Aug. 13, 2020, file photo, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks about the rollback of the 2016 methane emissions rules to undo Obama-era rules designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields and pipelines at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh. Wheeler says a second Trump administration term would bring more focus on pollution cleanups and less on climate change. Wheeler defended the administration’s environmental record Sept. 3, 2020, in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the EPA’s founding. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s pick for Virginia’s next secretary of natural resources is Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who served as the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief under President Donald Trump.

Youngkin (R) announced Wheeler as his choice Wednesday, a little over a week before he is sworn in as Virginia’s next governor on Jan. 15. He also named Michael Rolband, the founder of the consulting firm Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc., as Director of Environmental Quality.

“Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio in place to fuel our economic growth, continued preservation of our natural resources, and a comprehensive plan to tackle rising sea levels,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Andrew and Michael share my vision in finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, dependable, and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s power demands without passing the costs on to the consumer.”

The announcement comes as Youngkin continues to name his picks to fill out his cabinet. But picking Wheeler to serve as natural resources secretary has sparked an uproar from environmental groups and state Democrats.

“This is hands down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the Governor-elect could make,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, wrote in a statement. “While we were optimistic we might be able to find some common ground with the new Administration moving forward, this nomination makes it plainly clear that environmental protections are under attack in Virginia, and we are prepared to fight to defend them.”

The General Assembly will need to confirm Wheeler and Youngkin’s other cabinet picks during the 2022 legislative session, which starts on Jan. 12. Democrats hold a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate and Republicans will have a 52-48 majority in the House of Delegates when the session convenes.

While it may be unlikely, one Democrat state senator questioned whether any GOP lawmakers would oppose Wheeler as natural resources secretary.

State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) tweeted Wednesday after reports of Wheeler’s appointment first surfaced Wednesday morning:

“I know he’s new to Virginia government and all but @GlennYoungkin does understand cabinet secretaries require General Assembly approval — right? Some GOP legislators should have problems with this unless they’re not interested in re-election?”

The governor-elect has already said he will seek to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state program aimed to reduce carbon pollution, but some have questioned whether he can follow through with an executive order.

Youngkin, who has vowed to cut regulations across the commonwealth, has criticized the program, claiming it puts an unnecessary burden on businesses and ratepayers.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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