The nomination came despite the ongoing partial government shutdown, which has brought the EPA down to a skeleton staff. Wheeler, a former lobbyist for coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp. and other companies, has been the EPA’s acting head since July, when Scott Pruitt resigned due to growing ethics and spending scandals. The Senate confirmed him as deputy administrator in April. Trump said in November that Wheeler had “done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him.”
If the Senate confirms Wheeler to head the EPA, his responsibilities and abilities wouldn’t change. But without the confirmation, he may have been limited to 210 days as acting chief. The Senate currently has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats, so his confirmation is a near certainty.
Wheeler has overseen major action on some of the most consequential deregulatory proposals of the EPA under Trump. During his tenure as acting chief, the EPA has proposed to replace limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants with far looser rules, to stop plans to strengthen auto emissions and efficiency rules and to restrict the streams and wetlands that the EPA protects from harm.