Va. Senate rejects former EPA chief for Cabinet
Andrew Wheeler, Youngkin's natural resources secretary pick, rejected along party lines
The Virginia Senate voted Tuesday to reject Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s appointment for state secretary of natural and historic resources, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement, “It’s clear Mr. Wheeler is extraordinarily qualified to be secretary of natural and historic resources and admirably served for decades in the highest levels of government. The governor is disappointed in today’s vote because he was looking forward to Mr. Wheeler accomplishing great things on behalf of Virginians. Pursuant to the constitution, he will continue to serve as secretary of natural and historic resources until the General Assembly adjourns. In the meantime, we hope the Senate will reconsider.”
On a 21-19 vote along party lines, the Senate confirmed the Privileges and Elections Committee’s amendment to remove Wheeler from the resolution to confirm Youngkin’s Cabinet appointments.
The last Cabinet nominee to be rejected by the Virginia legislature was then-Gov. Tim Kaine’s pick for secretary of the commonwealth, former Virginia AFL-CIO president Daniel G. LeBlanc, in 2006.
Wheeler served in the Trump administration as the 15th administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2019 to 2021. He started at the EPA as a special assistant in its Pollution Prevention and Toxics office during the George H.W. Bush administration and became the agency’s deputy administrator in 2018. Wheeler’s EPA tenure was marked with some controversy, including an attempt to prohibit the EPA from utilizing research studies without publicly available raw data. The proposal was opposed by 69 leading scientific and medical organizations, editors of major scientific journals and a bipartisan group of former EPA administrators. Under his administration, the EPA also diminished mercury cleanup regulations and decided against increasing standards for fine soot pollution.
His nomination has drawn widespread attention, with the Virginia Senate receiving two warring letters from former EPA employees in January. On Jan. 14, 158 former EPA employees wrote urging legislators to oppose Wheeler’s nomination, The Associated Press reported. Over the last weekend in January, 125 former EPA employees and others who had worked directly with Wheeler wrote urging legislators to approve him, The AP also reported.
“Good government requires good stewardship of Virginia’s resources, including our natural resources,” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw and Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke in a statement. “But Mr. Wheeler’s track record on the environment and energy indicates he will unravel the progress we have achieved to address climate change, mitigate the effects of sea level rise and protect the natural beauty of our commonwealth. After hearing grave concerns from our communities, stakeholders and organizations — as well as Mr. Wheeler’s former colleagues at the EPA — we cannot in good conscience confirm such an alarming choice.”
The Senate will hold a final vote on the Cabinet appointments resolution (SJ 84) on Wednesday.