The U.S. Senate today confirmed the nomination of Fairfield native Andrew Wheeler, a former adviser to the late Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, as deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Wheeler earned a degree from Case Western Reserve University, was sharply criticized by environmentalists such as the Sierra Club because he had been an energy lobbyist.
Wheeler graduated in 1983 from Fairfield High School. His father was the late Ronald Wheeler, who was a dentist. His mother Pat Wheeler is a retired teacher from Fairfield City Schools.
“Andrew Wheeler has spent his entire career advancing sound environmental policies. I want to thank Leader McConnell and Chairman Barrasso for guiding Mr. Wheeler’s nomination through the Senate,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.
The Senate confirmed him by a vote of 53-to-45. Republican Rob Portman of Ohio supported the nomination while Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, opposed it.
“I feel excited and a little overwhelmed at the same time,” Wheeler told this news outlet. He said he’s excited the process is over and is able to get to work at the EPA, but “it’s quite humbling to hear yourself talked about on the Senate floor for quite some time, and people saying some not so nice things about you.”
Republicans said Wheeler, 53, is well-qualified to lead the agency, having worked at the EPA early in his career and serving as Republican staff chief of the Senate Environment Committee before becoming a lobbyist nine years ago.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate environment panel, said Wheeler has demonstrated his commitment to sound environmental policies and has “exemplified excellence in his professional endeavors,” both in government and in the private sector.
Senators approved Wheeler despite complaints from Democrats that Wheeler helped lead a fight by the coal industry to block regulations that protect Americans’ health and begin to address climate change.
If Pruitt is forced to step down, Wheeler would replace him until the Trump administration names a new administrator.
Until his nomination by President Donald Trump last fall, Wheeler worked as a lobbyist with a client list that included Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies. He accompanied Murray CEO Robert “Bob” Murray during a series of closed-door meetings to lobby the Trump administration to kill environmental regulations affecting coal mines.
Fairfield Mayor Steve Miller grew up with Wheeler, and calls his friend’s appointment “fantastic.”
“I’ve known Andrew since we were kids, we grew up together and graduated high school together,” Miller said. “He’s a good man and I think he absolutely would do a fantasitc job for the EPA. He’s always been a good guy.”
The Associated Press and staff writer Michael D. Pitman contributed to this report.