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Full Senate strikes Natural Resources nominee

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Steve Helber/AP
Former EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, who was nominated by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to be the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, testifies before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources at the Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP)

On Tuesday, Democrats in the Virginia Senate blocked the nomination of Andrew Wheeler for Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, the state’s top environmental post.

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) spoke in favor of removing Wheeler from a list of appointments made by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Wheeler previously served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Donald Trump, during which time the agency drew criticism for the rollback of a series of Obama-era emissions controls, including for automakers.

“This secretary needs to be somebody focused on preserving natural resources, not just finding ways to get around those rules,” Petersen said.

Before heading up the EPA, Wheeler worked as a coal lobbyist after serving as a staffer to James Inhofe - the Oklahoma Senator who famously threw a snowball on the floor of the U.S. Senate in an effort to prove global warming was a hoax.

Petersen pointed to the emissions rules rollbacks under Wheeler’s EPA, as well as reports that he’d ignored agency scientists on clean air standards.

“I know Mr. Wheeler can say, ‘Well I did the best I could within my limited sphere,’ but sometimes, you gotta do a little bit better than that,” Petersen said.

Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Stafford) argued that Wheeler’s experience and effectiveness in federal government make him an ideal pick, adding that the Governor generally gets his way on appointments.

“Every member that I spoke with said that he had absolutely knocked the ball out of the park,” Stuart said. “We have an opportunity here to confirm somebody who has the real credentials.”

Petersen agreed, but said he wasn’t certain that Wheeler would maintain Article XI of the Virginia constitution, which declares that it is the Commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, lands and waters from pollution, impairment or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth.

The amendment to remove Wheeler’s name was adopted in a 21-19, party-line vote, with the full resolution being moved along by voice vote. The Senate will vote on the measure one more time Wednesday.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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