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State Senate rejects Wheeler nomination

Andrew Wheeler AP
Steve Helber
Former EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, who has been nominated by Gov. Youngkin to be the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, testifies before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources at the Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Richmond, Va.

Governor Glenn Youngkin is dealing with a major setback. The state Senate rejected one of his key cabinet nominees Wednesday.

The nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Virginia's Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources was rejected by the state Senate on a party-line vote.

Republican Senator Richard Stuart of King George County says Wheeler is being given a raw deal.

"His record on clean air and clean water is frankly astonishing," Stuart says. "But I get the politics. I understand that some of these environmental groups out there don't like him because of who he worked for."

Wheeler served as the EPA chief for the Trump administration, which raised concerns for Senate Democrats. Senator Chap Petersen is a Democrat from Fairfax City who says the Trump administration has a terrible record on the environment.

"It defunded the Chesapeake Bay. It dismantled the Clean Power Plan, dismantled it. It basically removed rules that were dealing with coal ash and particulate and effectively silenced scientists," Petersen explains. "And I know Mr. Wheeler can say, 'Well I did the best I could within my limited sphere,' and I understand that. But sometimes you've got to do better than that."

Through a spokeswoman, the governor says he's disappointed in the vote – and he hopes the Senate will reconsider. He also says Wheeler will continue to serve as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources until the General Assembly adjourns.

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.