Wheeler kept up industry meetings after taking reins

By Kevin Bogardus, Corbin Hiar | 12/04/2018 01:17 PM EST

Andrew Wheeler met with a range of companies and trade groups with interests before EPA after he took charge at the agency.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Patrick G. Ryan

Andrew Wheeler met with a range of companies and trade groups with interests before EPA after he took charge at the agency.

Wheeler’s official August calendar, an 85-page document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, describes what he was doing during his first full month as acting EPA administrator. It is the first official Wheeler calendar E&E News has received that covers his tenure as acting boss.

Wheeler was scheduled to call or meet with executives for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, BP America, Delta Air Lines and Valero Energy Corp. during that month, according to the document. In addition, he was slated to take meetings with agricultural interests, like the American Soybean Association and CropLife America.


Wheeler was also scheduled to meet with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has influenced Trump administration policies.

The calendar also shows that Wheeler wasn’t meeting with auto industry representatives around the time the Trump administration proposed dialing back Obama-era clean car rules.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled their proposed rollback of the car rules on Aug. 2 (Greenwire, Aug. 2). But Wheeler’s calendar for that day shows unrelated meetings with Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, as well as with the industrial waste firm Clean Harbors Inc.

Wheeler was scheduled to meet with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group whose members include Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., on Aug. 15.

In late August, Wheeler was slated to meet with Raynard Jackson of Black Americans for a Better Future (BABF). According to its website, the super PAC is focused on getting blacks involved in the Republican Party. According to The Intercept, the organization got more than 90 percent of its funding from conservative megadonor Robert Mercer.

Wheeler’s calendar also sheds some light on the inner workings of EPA, showing which of his staffers were included in high-level meetings, offering some information about what they planned to discuss.

When EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson announced the hiring of Peter Wright and Chad McIntosh in July, he labeled them both as "special counsel" to the administrator. Wright, a lawyer for DowDuPont Inc., has been nominated to lead EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. McIntosh, a former Ford Motor Co. executive, has been nominated to lead the agency’s international and tribal affairs office. Neither has been confirmed by the Senate.

"Neither will be performing any duties that are reserved for the position for which they have been nominated," EPA’s top ethics official told E&E News, which first reported their new positions (E&E News PM, July 6).

But in August, they were listed as attending several "Weekly Meeting with AAs," the calendar said, referring to assistant administrators.

While the meetings were not limited only to assistant administrators, Wright and McIntosh were the only representatives from the solid waste and international offices who were invited to attend. Their attendance, along with other political aides, was listed as "required."

By comparison, the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, which also lacks a Senate-confirmed appointee, was represented by two officials: Nancy Beck and Erik Baptist, both of whom are industry veterans now serving as deputy assistant administrators.

EPA press officials didn’t immediately respond to questions from E&E News for this story, including on whether Wright and McIntosh were performing duties of the EPA jobs they had been nominated for in those meetings.

Each AA meeting, like virtually all of Wheeler’s meetings with EPA officials, was simply listed in his public calendar as "staff briefing."

EPA scheduled briefings with the acting EPA chief on several significant regulations, like its Lead and Copper Rule and air standards for mercury emissions. He also has frequent calls slated with Francis Brooke, the White House’s top domestic energy aide.

Wheeler met in August with William Reilly, who was President George H.W. Bush’s EPA chief and whom Wheeler served under as a career employee at the agency (Greenwire, Aug. 10).

In addition, Wheeler was slated that month to have a meeting with Mike Flynn, a senior career EPA official who served as acting deputy chief before retiring in April.

Time was also slotted for Wheeler to attend an ice cream social with EPA interns.

The document covers only the month of August, which was Wheeler’s second month as acting EPA chief.

His predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned in early July while battling allegations that he had misused his public office. That was when Wheeler took over on an acting basis. E&E News has filed a FOIA request for Wheeler’s official calendar for July, but it has not yet been fulfilled by the agency.

Wheeler, who had lobbied for several energy interests at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, was confirmed as deputy EPA administrator in April. His calendar as second in command, also obtained by E&E News under FOIA, showed that he met with a range of industry groups as well as with former clients, although those meetings were in group settings (Greenwire, Sept. 12).

Trump has said he will nominate Wheeler for the top job at EPA.

Wheeler’s official calendar offers more insight than its public version, often giving more details about his meetings, the topics discussed and how his time is spent. For example, the official calendar shows that 30 minutes of Wheeler’s time was scheduled to "Flip Pork Chops" at the Iowa fairgrounds.

Wheeler’s public calendar is posted on EPA’s website and is updated on a regular basis.

Reporters Maxine Joselow, Mike Soraghan and Ariel Wittenberg contributed.