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Coal lobbyist takes over key leadership post at Trump's EPA

The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)
The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C.

At around 2 p.m. (E.T.) yesterday, Donald Trump insisted he's "draining the swamp," even if it may not look like it." At around 4 p.m. (E.T.), we were reminded why "it may not look like" the president is honoring his commitment. Mother Jones  reported:

The fossil fuel industry now has yet another ally at the Environmental Protection Agency -- one who would almost certainly take over as head of the agency if Scott Pruitt is forced to resign. In a 53-45 vote on Thursday, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler -- a coal lobbyist who once worked for DC's most notorious climate change denier -- for the EPA's second-most powerful position. [...]As deputy administrator -- a powerful, if somewhat low-profile position -- Wheeler will be responsible for implementing Pruitt's vision. Wheeler is likely to have a hand in making appointments, overseeing operations, and working with regional and state agencies.

I realize that when it comes to this White House's personnel decisions, we've seen a staggering number of tough-to-defend moves, but Wheeler is especially egregious.

Let's circle back to our coverage from a few months ago to provide some relevant context. For the last several years, Wheeler was a lobbyist for, among others, Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies and fierce opponent of environmental safeguards. (Murray Energy’s CEO, Bob Murray, has also been a generous Donald Trump donor.)

In addition to his background as a lobbyist for polluters, Wheeler also served as chief counsel for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation’s preeminent climate deniers.

It’s against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it’d be a good idea to put Wheeler in a position to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency – a decision literally every Senate Republican on the floor yesterday, in addition to three red-state Democrats, endorsed yesterday.

The New Republic’s Emily Atkin recently explained, “Wheeler is not just the figurative embodiment of the swamp, but the literal embodiment of it. The coal industry is responsible for 72 percent of toxic water contamination in the United States, making it the nation’s largest water polluter. That’s according to the agency where Wheeler is about to be second in command – the agency that is charged with protecting clean water."

I can appreciate the fact that this White House has made several ridiculous nominations, especially when it comes to the environment. My personal favorite was Michael Dourson, a man who helped chemical companies fight against chemical safety regulations, only to be nominated by Trump to lead the EPA’s office of chemical safety.

But at least in that case, a handful of Senate Republicans balked and the nomination died. Yesterday, 53 senators, including every GOP member on the floor, agreed to confirm Andrew Wheeler -- despite (because of?) his coal-lobbying past.

The swamp is getting more polluted all the time.