Youngkin names former Trump EPA head as his Secretary of Natural Resources
Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin is taking a bit of a political beating for his choice of Andrew Wheeler as the next Secretary of Natural Resources.
Wheeler served as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Donald Trump. A former coal industry lobbyist, Wheeler presided over a rollback of environmental safeguards intended to protect clean air and water across the country – damage that the agency is still working to repair.
Wheeler’s efforts at EPA to weaken environmental protections included coal rules that EPA scientists estimated would lead to an additional 1,400 premature deaths. A skeptic of the impact of climate change, he implemented numerous rules and regulations to end American efforts to combat emissions.
Wheeler also led efforts to weaken scientific foundations of EPA work, going so far as to alter projections of deaths resulting from deregulation by changing the way those projections were calculated.
“Youngkin’s pick for Secretary of Natural Resources is simply unacceptable,” said Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. “As head of EPA under former President Trump, Wheeler did nothing more than cater to corporate polluter interests time and time again, putting their welfare ahead of our environment and Americans’ health.
“This is hands down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the governor-elect could make. While we were optimistic we might be able to find some common ground with the new administration moving forward, this nomination makes it plainly clear that environmental protections are under attack in Virginia, and we are prepared to fight to defend them,” Town said.
Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA-08), a leading critic of the Trump EPA and Andrew Wheeler’s leadership, said today that Wheeler “is one of the worst people the governor-elect could have chosen for this job.”
“Putting an anti-environment ideologue in this important position would be a far cry from the kind of consensus-based, pragmatic leadership the governor-elect promised,” Beyer said. “There are others with defensible records on environmental protection who would not compromise our natural resources or the moral and ethical standards Virginians expect and deserve. Gov.-elect Youngkin can do better than this.”
“Virginia surely does not need someone with his track record in such a crucial position,” Fourth District Congressman Donald McEachin said. “The Gov.-elect’s appointment shows a callous disregard for climate protections and environmental justice priorities and threatens the progress our Commonwealth has made. I wholeheartedly disagree with this extremely poor appointment.”
Outgoing House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn is also critical of the move by Youngkin.
“Protecting our environment affects the quality of life of all Virginians, from ensuring clean drinking water and air, to combating climate change and the devastating weather events that it causes,” Filler-Corn said. “Retreating in our efforts to preserve our natural resources and make our Commonwealth more sustainable is a disservice to all of us and ultimately to the future of our children. With the naming today of Donald Trump’s former EPA Administrator to steward Virginia’s environment, Glenn Youngkin has made clear he does not share the priorities and concerns of a majority of Virginians on these issues.”
Youngkin, in announcing the selection of Wheeler, also named Michael Rolband as the next director of Department of Environmental Quality.
Rolband, who founded Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc., drew the ire of environmentalists after he testified in support of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
“Gov.-elect Youngkin’s nomination of a clean air and water destroying, climate-action-obstructing coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, for Secretary of Natural Resources is exactly what no Virginian needs. His nomination of Michael Rolband for Director of Environmental Quality when Rolbland has testified for the Mountain Valley Pipeline is completely backward,” said Roberta Bondurant, Bent Mountain community advocate and co-chair of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) Coalition.
“We are on the ground fighting for our lives, land, and water amidst a climate crisis and rampant environmental injustice. This moment calls for nothing but bold and immediate climate action, the end to the abominable Mountain Valley Pipeline, and a decisive transition to a renewable economy that will benefit all Virginians,” Bondurant said.
A press release from the Youngkin transition office tried to put a positive spin on the news of the day.
“Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio in place to fuel our economic growth, continued preservation of our natural resources, and a comprehensive plan to tackle rising sea levels,” Youngkin said. “Andrew and Michael share my vision in finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, dependable, and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s power demands without passing the costs on to the consumer.
“Together, we will address Virginia’s ongoing environmental, energy, and natural resources challenges, including protecting the Chesapeake Bay, fully funding our best management practices, solving longstanding stormwater management issues, and establishing a Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority,” Youngkin said.
Story by Chris Graham