Three years ago, he hiked Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, but he has no aspirations to climb Mount Everest.
“I’m a hiker, not a climber,” he said.
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Wheeler gained a love for the region’s food while growing up in Fairfield.
Wheeler graduated from Fairfield High School in 1983, and his father was the late Ron Wheeler, the city’s first dentist in the 1960s. His mother, Pat, still lives in the same house his parents moved into during the summer before he was born.
But among all other foods, when asked what he misses the most, he was quick to answer: the chili.
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“I’m a little bit of a politician,” he said. “I always thought the coneys at Gold Star were better and the 3-ways at Skyline were better.”
He also misses some of Butler County’s best foods, like Richard’s steak sandwiches and Chester’s pizza, and Cincinnati hallmarks like Frisch’s, United Dairy Farmers and Graeter’s.
But when he’s in town from Washington, where he has worked since he started at the EPA in 1991, his preferred dessert stop is UDF for the chocolate chip ice cream and “the best eggnog I’ve ever had.” That’s mainly because there was — and still is — no Graeter’s in Fairfield, he said.
“I miss a lot of local foods. You don’t have that here, in my opinion. You either have nice restaurants or you have nice food. Back home, you have those Skylines, the Frisch’s, that aren’t fast food but you can go in and sit down with your family and eat a meal and not pay $100. But here, there isn’t something like that.”
Not just a coal lobbyist
Wheeler said he gets frustrated when he is described as a former coal lobbyist. While one of his clients was Murray Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal mining companies, he said he had more than 20 clients “and a coal company was one of my clients.”
“Yes, I represented a coal company, but I also represented a cheese company,” he said. “I represented a lot of different businesses, a lot of different interests.”
Other industries or organizations for which he lobbied as a private practice attorney in the nine years before his EPA confirmation included natural gas, an air quality management district in California, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), International Paper, local governments, a utility in Colorado, a uranium mining company, a nuclear utility and a few manufacturers.
“I represented them on the Hill — the House and the Senate — as well as the different federal agencies and departments,” Wheeler said.
Former government work
Wheeler started his career at the EPA in 1991. He worked there for four years as a special assistant to a division director.
After his stint at the EPA, he worked on Capitol Hill for 14 years.
He first worked for Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, for six years, then for the late Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, for two years, and then six more years for Inhofe. During his second stint with Inhofe, he was the staff director and chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which oversees all the EPA programs.
“I’ve been working on EPA issues my entire career,” he said.
“After I left the Hill, I went into private practice law practice and worked on a number of EPA issues during that time.”