Jul 5, 2018

Go deeper: Meet the former coal lobbyist replacing Scott Pruitt

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

Stocks fall 4% as sell-off worsens

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

Stocks fell more than 4% on Thursday, extending the market’s worst week since the financial crisis in 2008 following a spike in coronavirus cases around the world.

The big picture: All three indices are in correction, down over 10% from recent record-highs, amid a global market rout. It's the S&P 500's quickest decline into correction territory in the index's history, per Deutsche Bank.

Coronavirus updates: California monitors 8,400 potential cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

33 people in California have tested positive for the coronavirus, and health officials are monitoring 8,400 people who have recently returned from "points of concern," Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 82,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica, and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

Watchdog opens probe into VA secretary over handling of sexual assault claim

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Fox Business Network’s "The Evening Edit" on Jan. 7. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal said Thursday he had opened an investigation into VA Secretary Robert Wilkie after lawmakers demanded an inquiry into his handling of a sexual misconduct report, the Washington Post reports.

Context: Wilkie allegedly "worked to discredit" the credibility of Democratic aide and veteran Andrea Goldstein after she reported last fall "that a man groped and propositioned her in the main lobby of the agency's D.C. Medical Center," a senior VA official told the Post.