Va. governor-elect taps Trump EPA chief for key post

By Kevin Bogardus | 01/05/2022 04:10 PM EST

Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Andrew Wheeler, who served as head of EPA during the Trump administration, is returning to government service.

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) announced today he chose Wheeler as his secretary of natural resources. Wheeler will be the state’s top environmental official and oversee five agencies focusing on the environment, natural resources and recreation.

Youngkin also selected Michael Rolband as Virginia’s next director of environmental quality. Rolband founded Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc., a consulting firm, and the Resource Protection Group Inc., a nonprofit group for wetlands and streams restoration.

"Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio in place to fuel our economic growth, continued preservation of our natural resources, and a comprehensive plan to tackle rising sea levels," Youngkin said in a statement.

He added, "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."

POLITICO’s Morning Energy first reported Youngkin planned to pick Wheeler for the state environmental job.

Wheeler didn’t respond to a request for comment from E&E News sent earlier today.

Environmental groups in Virginia are displeased with the former Trump EPA administrator’s appointment in their state.

Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said the pick was "the most extreme nomination for an environmental post in Virginia’s history."

"While we were optimistic we might be able to find some common ground with the new administration moving forward, this nomination makes it plainly clear that environmental protections are under attack in Virginia, and we are prepared to fight to defend them," Town said.

Wheeler left EPA less than a year ago at the end of the Trump administration. At the agency, he led a deregulatory push that targeted air, climate and water regulations. Many of those actions are now being reversed by the Biden administration.

Wheeler, a former Senate aide and energy lobbyist, joined EPA in 2018 as deputy administrator. After Scott Pruitt resigned due to ethics troubles, he took charge of the agency on an acting basis and was later confirmed as administrator.

Wheeler, who also served as a career EPA employee early in his professional life, has been active since leaving the agency last year.

He has joined several conservative-leaning groups, including the America First Policy Institute, a Trump-aligned organization, as well as the Heritage Foundation. In addition, Wheeler testified against a plastic bag tax at a Fairfax County, Va., board of supervisors meeting (Greenwire, Sept. 16, 2021).

Youngkin had named Wheeler, a Fairfax County resident, on his Natural & Historic Resources transition landing team. Those groups were to coordinate with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) administration so Youngkin and his Cabinet would be ready to act when the latter takes office Jan. 15 (Greenwire, Nov. 29, 2021).

As governor, Youngkin is expected to pull back on climate and clean energy efforts espoused by Democrats and green organizations. The Republican has said he will remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon emissions reduction program across several states, as governor (Energywire, Dec. 9, 2021).

Reporter Timothy Cama contributed.