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Senate Democrats are hopeful they can block Wheeler appointment

Wheeler_SenatePanel
Michael Pope
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Controversial cabinet pick Andrew Wheeler testifies before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

Governor Glenn Youngkin's controversial pick for environmental secretary is making his case to members of the General Assembly, who must approve his nomination.

Being the EPA chief for Donald Trump isn't really the best resume for Senate Democrats, who are hoping to reject Governor Glenn Youngkin's pick for running his administration's environmental policy. That created a sense of tension when Andrew Wheeler testified before a Senate panel that makes environmental laws. He says the press reports that he’s a former coal lobbyist, but he says that tells only part of the story.

"They don't report that my number one project for that company was advocating for the Miners Protection Act to shore up the retirement and healthcare benefits of the United Mine Workers," he explained to the panel Tuesday.

Wheeler presented himself as someone who reduced air pollution and cleaned up superfund sites and mandated clean water for school children. But Tim Cywinski at the Sierra Club says his rhetoric doesn’t match his record.

“Andrew Wheeler has a record of undermining science and environmental protections that are meant to keep people safe," Cywinski says. "Virginia has made an awful lot of progress in environmental justice and climate action over the last two years, and Andrew Wheeler is a significant threat against the progress that we’ve made.”

Senate Democrats are hoping they’ll have the votes to reject his nomination, which is pretty rare in Virginia politics. The last time it happened was back in the Kaine administration when a Republican-led House rejected Kaine’s nominee for Secretary of the Commonwealth.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.