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Top coal lobbyist expected to be No. 2 at EPA

Top coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is likely to be tapped as the No. 2. official at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to two people familiar with the decision-making process.

The expected appointment for deputy EPA administrator is a turnaround from last month when the White House was poised to tap Jeff Holmstead, a former top EPA official under President George W. Bush. Holmstead is considered to be a more moderate conservative compared to Wheeler and other officials inside the Trump administration.

Why it matters: Wheeler's likely nomination shows the influence of conservatives, both inside and outside the administration, over environmental and energy policy. Wheeler has been more outspoken in questioning the science behind climate change than Holmstead.

Wheeler's bio: Wheeler, now a principal at firm Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, is a top lobbyist for Murray Energy, the coal mining company whose CEO, Bob Murray, is close with President Trump. Wheeler has steadily lobbied on behalf of the private coal producer since at least 2009, according to lobbying disclosure data. His most recent filing for the company was posted July 20, according to the federal disclosure website.

Wheeler has worked on Capitol Hill, including for Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), when he was a leader on the environment committee. Many top officials at EPA and the White House have worked for Inhofe, who in turn has a long-standing relationship with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma before getting the EPA job.

For the record: Reached by email, Wheeler had no comment. Spokespeople for the EPA and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

What's next: No final decision has been made on the nomination, which would require Senate confirmation and is certain to face intense pushback from Democrats.