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Senators question Youngkin environmental chief pick
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Senators question Youngkin environmental chief pick

Andrew Wheeler, then-EPA Administrator, testifies before a U.S. Senate oversight hearing on May 20, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

By Sarah Vogelsong
The Virginia Mercury

Andrew Wheeler, the former head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency described himself Tuesday as a strong supporter for the Chesapeake Bay. He stated that he accepts that climate change has occurred and promised to uphold state laws, including Virginia’s Clean Economy Act, if he is appointed to Virginia’s top environmental post.

Wheeler stated that he has not considered the act in terms changes and had not spoken with anyone in the administration about any changes to the act. Wheeler spoke before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee. It is the law and law of the State, so I will implement it.

As Republican Governor. Glenn Youngkins contentious pick for Secretary of state for natural and historical resourcesSince his nomination earlier this month, Wheeler, a Fairfax resident, has attracted a lot of attention in Virginia’s otherwise staid cabinet approval process.

Senate Democrats, who have a narrow margin of two votes in that chamber, have indicated that they will block his confirmation. They see it as an attack on Virginia’s environmental protections and their party’s climate-driven agenda for reducing carbon emissions.

The tenure of Wheelers as EPA chief in President Donald Trump’s administration was marred by a string controversies over dozens Rollbacks of environmental regulations, including the Obama administrations Clean Power Plan. It also includes a proposal to reduce federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program in 90 percent. An EPA rule that was opposed by many scientists would have limited the use of studies in rulemakings if the underlying data weren’t made public.

Wheeler defended the EPA’s previous decisions during almost an hour of questioning.

He maintained that the Supreme Court had halted the Clean Power Plan. But he claimed that he believed it was beyond the purview of the Clean Air Act.

He described the proposal to cut the Chesapeake Bay budget a political issue between Congress and the White House. Instead, he stated that he had been focusing on finding additional funding for the bay and securing well above a billion dollars in my tenure at EPA to support bay programs across the entire geographic area.

He also spoke out about the EPA rule governing the use of studies. He stated that he believes that if a regulatory agency uses a scientific study to base a new regulation it should be open to the public to view the study and the data.

Some Democratic senators pressed Wheeler regarding the opposition he has received both from career scientists and EPA officers during his tenure at the agency, as well as in the wake Youngkins’ appointment of him to secretary of natural resource. Wheelers’ appointment was criticized by more than 150 ex-EPA officials who sent a letter this month to the Virginia Senate, urging them not to accept it.[ing]a radical approach that methodically weakens the ability of the EPA to protect public health, and the environment.

Why is your reputation for being a lightning rod of controversy so high? asked Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond). I’ll be honest, I think what I heard today, especially on important topics, sounds good.

Wheeler replied that I don’t think the things I did at EPA got covered very well by media before relaying a story on a newspaper that he claimed refused to write positive news stories about Trump EPA.

He said that I was constantly confronted with that, and that our positive aspects were never covered.

Other senators inquired about Wheeler’s plans and policies as a cabinet member.

Wheeler responded to Richard Stuart (R-Stafford), a question about the secretariat’s strategies to help Virginia meet its 2025 Bay Cleanup goal. Wheeler said that he would work closely with communities with combined sewer overflow issues and find creative funding options for small and mid-sized communities.Focus on the agricultural sectorThis is the area where the greatest pollution reductions are needed.

Wheeler was cautious about the future of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (a carbon market that includes 10 Mid-Atlantic states and New England states that Virginia joined following 2020 legislation), Youngkin has promised to pull Virginia out of RGGI. This move has sparked backlash from Democrats as well as environmentalists.

Through his executive order, the governor directed the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to conduct an assessment of RGGI. They have already begun. I look forward to seeing the results of that process, to see what the staff recommends to me and what their thoughts are on RGGI. He also pointed out that there are other ways to address greenhouse gases if the State decides to withdraw from RGGI. I understand that part of that decision would be made by the Legislature.

Morrissey asked Wheeler later in the meeting whether RGGI withdrawal would need legislative action. Wheeler replied that he believed the Department of Environmental Quality report would address the issue and that he would not engage in legal analysis.

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