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Andrew Wheeler, EPA acting administrator. Screenshot via U.S. Senate video

The departure of scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday led President Trump to tap the agency’s second-in-command, Andrew Wheeler, to take over as acting administrator.

The big picture: Amid backlash and numerous federal and congressional inquiries over Pruitt’s controversial spending habits, management decisions and ethics practices, many have speculated that Wheeler would take over should Pruitt resign or fired. But just last week, he told the told the Washington Examiner he had no interest in taking Pruitt’s job. 

“I could have put my hat in the ring for the administrator. I wasn’t interested in that. I am still not interested in that. I am the deputy administrator and that is what I am focused on doing.”
— Wheeler told the Examiner
Key details:
  • Wheeler, like his predecessor, has been skeptical over the argument that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming.
  • Trump tapped him last October for the number two slot at the agency, and the Senate confirmed him in April by a 53-to-45 vote.
  • His confirmation came after he faced scrutiny over his past lobbying work with Murray Energy, the country's largest privately-owned coal company that sued the EPA on multiple occasions. The coal giant had vigorously fought the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions and bolster environmental and public health regulations.
Wheeler's history:
  • At Murray Energy, Wheeler lobbied the Department of Energy to provide government subsidies for coal plants, per CNN. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission struck down the proposal earlier this year sought by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
  • A Uranium Mining Company's lobbying team led by Wheeler had successfully persuaded the Trump administration to cut the size of the fiercely contested Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
  • Wheeler worked as a top aide for Sen. Jim Inhofe, a committee member and former chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee from 1995 to 2009.
  • He supported efforts to exempt industrial plants from heightened pollution controls in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and fought to shield polluters from liability for harm caused by the release of toxic chemicals.
  • Wheeler had also worked to defeat climate-related proposed bills before lawmakers.

Go deeper: How things will (and won’t) change at EPA with Scott Pruitt gone

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

House cancels Thursday session as FBI, Homeland Security warn of threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says extremists have discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

3 hours ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).