The U.S. Senate voted last week to confirm coal executive Andrew Wheeler as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, raising the prospect that a former Murray Energy lobbyist will take over as interim administrator if his scandal-plagued new boss, Scott Pruitt, is eventually dismissed.
Perhaps not the first or most important item on Wheeler’s agenda: whether to keep the US$43,000 soundproof phone booth and customized SUV with bullet-resistant seat covers that Pruitt evidently considers essential job accessories. The U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded this week that installation of the phone booth violated federal government spending rules, the Washington Post reports.
The Senate approved Wheeler’s nomination by a 53-45 vote, with support from Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), and Joe Donnelly (IN).
Although a deregulatory “action plan” submitted by Murray Energy has become something of a to-do list for the Trump White House, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Wheeler had assured him he sees the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a matter of settled law. That position “would be a stark contrast from Murray, who not only thinks it should be repealed, but argues that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” InsideClimate News notes.
Meanwhile, Politico and the Washington Post both carried stories in the last week citing career employees who were fired or reassigned after questioning Pruitt’s spending. Mario Caraballo, deputy associate administrator of EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, approved an internal report that questioned Pruitt’s claim that he needed round-the-clock bodyguards and “other expensive security protection,” Politico states. Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations and a onetime Trump campaign aide, “has given congressional investigators a detailed list of what he describes as Pruitt’s wasteful spending and unethical behavior,” the Post reports, citing a letter signed by Democrats in the House and Senate.