Wheeler lobbied for coal — and cheese, washers, cars

By Mike Soraghan, Corbin Hiar | 07/12/2018 07:42 AM EDT

Andrew Wheeler, EPA’s acting administrator, might be best known as a former coal lobbyist. He was also a cheese lobbyist.

Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at EPA headquarters, speaking yesterday to agency employees.

Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at EPA headquarters, speaking yesterday to agency employees. EPA

Andrew Wheeler, EPA’s acting administrator, might be best known as a former coal lobbyist. He was also a cheese lobbyist.

And a washing machine lobbyist.

And a used car lobbyist.


Wheeler emphasized some of these non-coal connections when he addressed agency employees yesterday (E&E News PM, July 11).

"I had a number of clients," Wheeler said. "If you read the press, I only had one, but I actually had over 20 clients."

The single company that Wheeler says reporters focus on is Murray Energy Corp., whose leader, Bob Murray, accused former President Obama of waging war on coal. More recently, Murray gave the Trump administration an "action plan" to strengthen the coal industry (Energywire, July 2).

Wheeler represented Murray for his entire time in the private sector, nine years. That’s longer than any other client.

He also lobbied for Whirlpool Corp., the maker of dishwashers and other home appliances, with a focus on the Energy Star efficiency program. And he worked on trade issues for Insurance Auto Auctions Inc., which specializes in marketing salvage vehicles, and its parent company, KAR Auction Services.

Another client was Sargento Foods Inc., which describes itself as "the home of real cheese people." It’s not clear what Wheeler and his colleagues at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP did for Sargento. The lobby disclosure forms filed by the firm say only that they worked on food and "agriculture-related" issues in 2016 and 2017.

A spokeswoman for Sargento, Portia Young, declined yesterday to explain why the company wanted a lobbying team, except to say the Wisconsin-based outfit has been "building out our government affairs competency since we hired a general counsel to strengthen our legal function in-house."

While running EPA, Wheeler will oversee the regulation and permitting of confined animal feeding operations, such as dairy farms.

Wheeler worked for years on Capitol Hill, mostly for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate’s foremost climate skeptic and a former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. He left nine years ago and joined Faegre Baker Daniels.

Wheeler told EPA employees yesterday that he worked with "different companies, trade associations, some public sector, some private-sector clients, some NGOs. I worked for an air quality management district in California. And I did work for a coal company, and I’m not at all ashamed of the work that I did for the coal company."

Many of his other clients were also from the energy world. He worked for the nuclear industry’s trade group, a Colorado uranium mining company and Xcel Energy Inc., the Minneapolis-based utility.

Unlike his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, though, he has few apparent ties to oil and gas production (Energywire, July 9).

Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said he knows Wheeler best from his work for Murray on coal issues. The positions Wheeler promoted as a lobbyist probably reflect his personal views, Ebell said.

"He’s not going to take on clients that he doesn’t have some fundamental agreement with," said Ebell, director of the institute’s Center for Energy and Environment.

That’s the problem, said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen. The companies that paid Wheeler to make their case now have someone on the inside, leaving the public on the outside, he said.

"He will be pursuing the companies’ interest," Holman said. "The companies who are regulated by EPA have landed one of their own at the agency."

To Holman, it shows how President Trump’s claims about reining in lobbyists ring hollow.

"It really is inflated campaign rhetoric," he said.

Wheeler has pledged to stay away from his former lobbying clients in a recusal statement he filed as deputy administrator. The statement, obtained by E&E News under the Freedom of Information Act, listed eight past clients that might have "environmental interests" that intersect with his duties at EPA.

They were Murray Energy, Energy Fuels Resources Corp., Growth Energy, Xcel Energy, International Paper Co., Martin Farms Inc., Sargento Foods and Underwriters Laboratories.

He lobbied for many more companies than that.

There were Bear Head LNG Corp., which wants to export liquefied natural gas to Canada; chemical maker Celanese Corp.; the Coalition for Domestic Medical Isotope Supply; Darling International Inc., a Texas agribusiness firm; a renewable fuels nonprofit called Domestic Fuel Solutions Group; and Chemours Co. subsidiary ICOR International.

Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.