- Gov.-elect Youngkin tapped ex-EPA chief Wheeler to become Virginia’s secretary of natural resources.
- The move was blasted by Democrats, who were critical of his rollback of regulations under Trump.
- Wheeler’s nomination requires approval by the legislature, which will soon have split party control.
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Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday tapped Andrew Wheeler — the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who helped rescind Obama-era regulations under then-President Donald Trump — to become the Commonwealth’s secretary of natural resources.
The nomination immediately drew opposition from state Democrats and environmental groups, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Youngkin — who will succeed term-limited Gov. Ralph Northam on January 15 — also nominated Michael Rolband, the founder of Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc., to lead the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
“Andrew and Michael share my vision in finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, dependable, and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s power demands without passing the costs on to the consumer,” the governor-elect said in a statement.
The Wheeler nomination could produce an intense confirmation battle just as Youngkin builds the first Republican administration in Virginia since then-Gov. Bob McDonnell held office from 2010 to 2014.
As a member of the governor’s Cabinet, the natural resources secretary must be confirmed by the Virginia General Assembly. While Republicans will control the House of Delegates by a narrow 52-48 margin beginning this month, Democrats maintain a razor-thin 21-19 majority in the state Senate.
Democratic state Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax County blasted Youngkin’s selection last week.
“I know he’s new to Virginia government and all but @GlennYoungkin does understand cabinet secretaries require General Assembly approval — right?” he wrote on Twitter. “Some GOP legislators should have problems with this unless they’re not interested in re-election?”
Walton Shepherd, a senior staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Virginia, told the Times-Dispatch that the nomination was “over the top.”
“It’s an outright oddity to appoint an inside-the-D.C.-Beltway coal lobbyist in a state that produces virtually zero coal,” he told the newspaper. “Governor-elect Youngkin could accelerate progress on clean air, clean water, clean energy, but this is a ham-handed appointment that only assures he’ll get nothing done.”
Michael Town, the executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, decried the pick.
“As head of EPA under former President Trump, Wheeler did nothing more than cater to corporate polluter interests time and time again, putting their welfare ahead of our environment and Americans’ health,” he said in a statement. “This is hands down the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history and the absolute worst pick that the Governor-elect could make.”
Surovell expressed hope that members of both parties would squelch the Wheeler nomination.
“I would hope in Virginia there would be bipartisan opposition to choosing him,” he told the newspaper.
Republican state Sen. Richard Stuart of Westmoreland County told the Times-Dispatch that he wasn’t too familiar with Wheeler but didn’t doubt his qualifications from their work on the governor-elect’s natural resources transition committee.
“He is incredibly competent, smart and very qualified,” Stuart told the newspaper. “Now, I’ve already heard from some of my Democratic colleagues and friends on the other side of the aisle. But it seems to me their objection is he worked for President Trump.
While nominees can be rejected, it is not a frequent occurrence in the Commonwealth.
In 2006, Republicans in the House of Delegates blocked Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine from appointing the former labor leader Daniel LeBlanc as the secretary of the commonwealth, largely due to the then-nominee’s opposition to the state’s right-to-work law. That particular law ensures that employees can opt out of paying fees to a union, even if the employees are benefiting from protections.
In 2014, the GOP-led House of Delegates rejected then-Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s choice of Boyd Marcus for a slot on the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, despite his approval by the state Senate. Marcus, a well-known Republican strategist in the Commonwealth, worked for McAuliffe’s successful 2013 gubernatorial campaign.
Youngkin last month said that he would use executive action to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a program devised to lessen emissions from power plants — but it is unclear whether he has the power to make such a decision since the state’s participation was approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2020.