Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent a letter to President Donald Trump and a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt expressing grave concerns about stunning new revelations they received this week from Kevin Chmielewski-a long-time supporter and campaign aide of President Trump who served as Pruitt's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at EPA.
The Thursday vote was largely along party lines - 53-45. They included Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
In the letter, the Democrats asked Pruitt for documents related to the allegations, which built on previous scandals surrounding the former Oklahoma attorney general, including controversies over a $50-a-night Washington D.C. rental from an energy lobbyist, an expensive security detail and first-class travel, the installation of a $43,000 sound-proof phone booth in his office, the use of motorcade sirens to get through slow traffic, and pay raises for two aides that were procured by going around the White House.
Wheeler was tapped for the job while running the energy and environment practice at the Washington, DC-based consulting law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels.
As deputy administrator-a powerful, if somewhat low-profile position-Wheeler will be responsible for implementing Pruitt's vision. He deregistered as a lobbyist in August 2017, according to the EPA.
"The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment, but Andrew Wheeler has dedicated his career to weakening environmental protections, serving as a lobbyist for numerous fossil fuel clients, including one of our country's biggest polluters, Murray Energy", Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in an open letter to members of the Senate.
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"We strongly support Andrew".
"We welcome an investigation into this", an EPA spokeswoman said at the time.
In a party-line vote, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler to be the EPA's deputy administrator.
Wheeler worked at the EPA during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, according to an EPA press release, as a staffer for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and worked as general counsel for conservative Sen.
But environmental groups lined up in opposition to Wheeler's nomination.
Wheeler signed an ethics pledge agreeing to "not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know the firm is a party or represents a party, unless I am first authorized to participate", for a year. He accompanied Murray CEO Robert "Bob" Murray during a series of closed-door meetings to lobby the Trump administration to kill environmental regulations affecting coal mines.
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Wheeler previously worked on energy and environmental issues as a staffer for Inhofe and for the Senate environment committee. He has reportedly supported Trump's vow to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement.
"Scott Pruitt's use of four email addresses is like a criminal wiping fingerprints off the wheel of his getaway auto before dumping it for another one", EWG President Ken Cook said. This possibility isn't lost on some Democrats.
"The problem with the Wheeler nomination is if [Pruitt] goes tomorrow, Wheeler is in fact the administrator", Udall said Wednesday.
Wheeler wrote a post on his personal Facebook account the day before Super Tuesday pleading with those considering voting for Trump to reconsider.
The result is a catalogue of allegations against Pruitt and senior EPA leadership, some new and some old, that together paint a picture of a Cabinet official more interested in exerting his power than doing his job.
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