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Virginia Democrats Aim to Block Trump’s E.P.A. Chief From State Agency

Virginia Democrats Aim to Block Trump’s E.P.A. Chief From State Agency
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A rare confirmation battle is brewing over the nomination of Andrew Wheeler, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald J. Trump, to take a similar role in running an upcoming Republican state in Virginia.

Democratic leaders have said they will try to prevent Mr. Wheeler from taking charge of conservation programs, cleanup and climate change initiatives such as those he opposed as an EPA official.

Resistance against Wheeler began to build just moments after Governor-elect Glenn Yongkin, a Republican who would be sworn in on January 15, announced his nomination for Secretary of Natural Resources.

Republicans won control of the House of Delegates in November, but Democrats held a 21-19 majority in the state Senate. They would be able to block Mr. Wheeler’s confirmation if every Democratic senator voted against him.

It will be one of the few times in recent history that the choice of ruler has been turned on its head in a country where polite politics have long been the norm.

Democratic lawmakers said Thursday that Wheeler’s previous job as a coal lobbyist and the role he played at the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse federal safeguards against air and water pollution were reasons to oppose his appointment.

Scott A. said: Soroville, Democratic Senator from Northern Virginia: “Our governors tend not to propose people for these polarizing positions.” “I can’t think of a candidate in the last 20 years who has had such a controversial history as this guy.”

Soroville, the vice chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said he wasn’t sure if there were enough votes to defeat Wheeler’s nomination. But he said he had been texting all day long from colleagues who had expressed surprise at Mr. Yongkin’s choice.

“I think there is a real chance he will be rejected if Governor-elect Yongkin continues to insist on his candidacy,” Mr. Soroville said.

Mr. Wheeler, who lives in Virginia, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Yongkin spokesman also declined to comment.

In a statement announcing his nomination of Mr. Wheeler as well as Michael Roelband for the position of state director for environmental quality, Mr. Youngkin said: “Virginia needs a diverse array of energy to fuel our economic growth, the continued conservation of our natural resources, and a comprehensive plan to address rising sea levels. Shares Andrew and Michael my vision is to find new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, reliable, and growing source of energy that meets Virginia’s energy demands without charging the consumer.”

In September, Mr. Wheeler testified before the Fairfax County, Virginia Board of Supervisors against a proposed 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, calling the plan “misleading”.

“Hiring someone like Wheeler is dangerous and reckless,” said Conor Kish, legislative and policy director for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group. Mr. Kish said the class was launching a direct lobbying effort to silence Mr. Wheeler’s assertion, the first time in his memory that the group had done so for a statewide candidate.

Yet despite opposition to his policies, Mr. Wheeler was briefly a salve at a time of great concern at the Environmental Protection Agency when he took the helm in 2018 after his predecessor Scott Pruitt resigned amid federal investigations into ethics. Having begun his career at the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1990s before serving in the Senate for more than a decade, Mr. Wheeler was considered a technocrat who did not seek the spotlight and focused on advancing his bosses’ agendas.

“It’s going to be a very, very steadfast hand,” said Michael Catanzaro, partner and chief policy officer at CGCN Group, a consulting firm that served in the Trump administration.

Will he implement the policies the governor wants? Mr. Catanzaro said. “The environmental community won’t like it, but he should at least have some respect for Andy and his decades of experience working on energy and environmental issues.”

Mr. Yongkin has already said he wants to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon market that includes 10 other nations in the Northeast and South Atlantic. Virginia recently completed its first full cycle of quarterly carbon auctions, which yielded approximately $228 million in revenue that Virginia has allocated to flood protection and clean energy programs in low-income areas.

Legal experts said it was unclear whether Mr. Yongkin could unilaterally withdraw Virginia from the initiative because her participation is authorized under state law.

The legislature also passed the Clean Economy Act of 2020, which committed Virginia to transition the electric grid to 100 percent carbon-neutral energy by 2050. Democratic lawmakers said they feared Mr. Wheeler would try to slow or weaken implementation.

“I am very concerned that it will not only stop the bill, but effectively undermine it,” said state Senator Jennifer McClellan, a Charles City County Democrat and architect of the Clean Economy Act. The law, she said, resulted in Virginia ranked fifth nationally in solar energy growth.

Ms McClellan declined to say if she would vote against Mr Wheeler, but said she had concerns “I’m not sure he can overcome.”

The last time the Virginia General Assembly rejected a nomination was in 2006, when Republicans opposed Governor Tim Kaine’s nomination of Daniel LeBlanc for Commonwealth Secretary, said Cal Jaffe, director of the Environmental Law and Community Engagement Clinic at the University of Virginia College. of the law.

“It is historically rare for the General Assembly to object to cabinet decisions, but it is not unprecedented,” he said.

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