Andrew Wheeler, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Andrew Wheeler

Andrew Wheeler, who had been serving as Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since the departure of Scott Pruitt in July, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 28.

President Donald Trump nominated Wheeler to be the permanent replacement in January.

"As acting administrator of EPA, (Wheeler) has prioritized commonsense policies that protect our air and water, while allowing our economy to grow," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) following the 52-47 vote.

Only one Republican in the Republican-controlled Senate opposed Wheeler, Maine's Susan Collins, who argued his efforts to roll back standards on emissions blamed for climate change takes the country in the wrong direction.

Prior to the vote, Wheeler had faced a brief pushback from five Republican senators from oil states—including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)—over what they perceived as his support of policies favorable to the ethanol industry.

The corn and oil industries have conflicting interests when it comes to biofuels like ethanol, which compete with petroleum for market share.

All five senators had met with Wheeler earlier in February over the issue and voted to approve Wheeler.

As expected, Wheeler received no support from Democratic senators. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) did not vote. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who voted for Wheeler's confirmation as deputy administrator, opposed Wheeler's bid as a permanent replacement, citing Wheeler's handling of a class of toxic chemicals called PFAS contaminating drinking water.

After pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Wheeler said he intends to set the first-ever limits on the pollutant in drinking water when he unveiled the PFAS Action Plan in February.   

"Throughout his career, Andrew Wheeler has shown a clear disregard for the EPA’s mission to protect the public and environment," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), after voting against him.

While running the EPA on an interim basis, Wheeler oversaw the weakening of Obama-era rules limiting carbon and mercury emissions from power plants and standards on carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks.

During his confirmation hearing in January, Wheeler said he did not believe climate change was a major crisis.

Like Pruitt, Wheeler held nearly 20 times more meetings with industry representatives than with conservationists during his first two months on the job, according to a copy of his schedule reviewed by Reuters.

Reuters contributed to this report.