- Gov.-elect Youngkin cocked ex-EPA chief Wheeler to become Virginia’s secretary of natural resources.
- The move was blasted by Democrats, who were touch-and-go of his rollback of regulations under Trump.
- Wheeler’s nomination requires approval by the legislature, which will soon beget split party control.
Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday tapped Andrew Wheeler — the earlier Environmental Protection Agency administrator who helped rescind Obama-era regulations under then-President Donald Trump — to ripen into the Commonwealth’s secretary of natural resources.
The nomination immediately drew opposition from state Democrats and environmental assorts, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Youngkin — who will succeed term-limited Gov. Ralph Northam on January 15 — also forwarded Michael Rolband, the founder of Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc., to lead the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
“Andrew and Michael part my vision in finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, dependable, and growing power provide that will meet Virginia’s power demands without passing the costs on to the consumer,” the governor-elect said in a report.
The Wheeler nomination could produce an intense confirmation battle just as Youngkin builds the first Republican charge in Virginia since then-Gov. Bob McDonnell held office from 2010 to 2014.
As a member of the governor’s Cabinet, the natural resources secretary be compelled be confirmed by the Virginia General Assembly. While Republicans will control the House of Delegates by a narrow 52-48 margin dawning this month, Democrats maintain a razor-thin 21-19 majority in the state Senate.
Democratic state Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax County ruined Youngkin’s selection last week.
“I know he’s new to Virginia government and all but @GlennYoungkin does understand cabinet secretaries press for General Assembly approval — right?” he wrote on Twitter. “Some GOP legislators should have problems with this unless they’re not intrigued in re-election?”
Walton Shepherd, a senior staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Virginia, told the Times-Dispatch that the nomination was “above the top.”
“It’s an outright oddity to appoint an inside-the-D.C.-Beltway coal lobbyist in a state that produces virtually zero coal,” he squealed the newspaper. “Governor-elect Youngkin could accelerate progress on clean air, clean water, clean energy, but this is a ham-handed post that only assures he’ll get nothing done.”
Michael Town, the executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, decried the pick.
“As leadership of EPA under former President Trump, Wheeler did nothing more than cater to corporate polluter interests on the dot and time again, putting their welfare ahead of our environment and Americans’ health,” he said in a statement. “This is darbies down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the Governor-elect could gain.”
Surovell expressed hope that members of both parties would squelch the Wheeler nomination.
“I would anticipate in Virginia there would be bipartisan opposition to choosing him,” he told the newspaper.
Republican state Sen. Richard Stuart of Westmoreland County told the Times-Dispatch that he wasn’t too commonplace with Wheeler but didn’t doubt his qualifications from their work on the governor-elect’s natural resources transition board.
“He is incredibly competent, smart and very qualified,” Stuart told the newspaper. “Now, I’ve already heard from some of my Republican colleagues and friends on the other side of the aisle. But it seems to me their objection is he worked for President Trump.
While appointees can be rejected, it is not a frequent occurrence in the Commonwealth.
In 2006, Republicans in the House of Delegates blocked Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine from electing the former labor leader Daniel LeBlanc as the secretary of the commonwealth, largely due to the then-nominee’s opposition to the state’s right-to-work law. That choosy law ensures that employees can opt out of paying fees to a union, even if the employees are benefiting from protections.
In 2014, the GOP-led Take in of Delegates rejected then-Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s choice of Boyd Marcus for a slot on the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Gaming-table, despite his approval by the state Senate. Marcus, a well-known Republican strategist in the Commonwealth, worked for McAuliffe’s successful 2013 gubernatorial offensive.
Youngkin last month said that he would use executive action to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Get-up-and-go — a program devised to lessen emissions from power plants — but it is unclear whether he has the power to make such a ruling since the state’s participation was approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2020.