Governor-elect Yongkin appointed former EPA chief Wheeler to become Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources.
The move was criticized by Democrats, who have criticized rolling back regulations under Trump.
Wheeler’s nomination requires the approval of the legislature, which will soon have divided party control.
Virginia Governor Glenn Yongkin on Wednesday named Andrew Wheeler — the former director of the Environmental Protection Agency who helped repeal then-President Donald Trump’s Obama-era regulations — to become the Commonwealth Secretary of Natural Resources.
The nomination was immediately met with opposition from state Democrats and environmental groups, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Yongkin – who will succeed limited-term Governor Ralph Northam on January 15 – also nominated Michael Roelband, founder of Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc. , to lead the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
“Andrew and Michael share my vision of finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, reliable, and growing source of energy that meets Virginia’s energy requirements without charging the consumer,” the governor-elect said in a statement.
Wheeler’s nomination could result in an intense confirmation battle just as Youngkin established Virginia’s first Republican administration since then. Bob McDonnell held the position from 2010 to 2014.
As a member of the Cabinet, the Secretary of Natural Resources must be confirmed by the Virginia General Assembly. While Republicans will control the House of Delegates by a slim margin of 52-48 beginning this month, Democrats hold a very slim 21-19 majority in the state Senate.
Democratic Senator Scott Soroville of Fairfax County criticized Yongkin’s selection last week.
“I know he’s new to the Virginia government and all but GlennYoungkin understand that cabinet ministers require approval by the General Assembly–right?” he wrote on Twitter. “Some GOP lawmakers should have problems with this unless they’re interested in getting reelected?”
Walton Shepherd, chief personnel attorney for the Virginia Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Times-Dispatch that the nomination was “over the top.”
“It is quite strange to appoint a coal lobbyist within Washington, D.C. in a state that doesn’t actually produce any coal,” he told the newspaper. “Governor-elect Yongkin can accelerate progress on clean air, clean water and clean energy, but this is a very difficult deadline and only confirms that nothing will be accomplished.”
Michael Town, executive director of the Federation of Conservation Voters, decried the choice.
“As head of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Trump, Wheeler has done nothing more than serve the interests of polluting companies over and over again, putting their well-being over our environment and the health of Americans,” he said in a statement. “This is the most extreme nomination for an environmental office in Virginia’s history and the worst choice ever for a governor-elect.”
Soruville expressed hope that members of both parties would rescind Wheeler’s nomination.
“I hope in Virginia there will be bipartisan opposition to his choice,” he told the newspaper.
State Republican Senator Richard Stewart of Westmoreland County told the Times-Dispatch that he was not very familiar with Wheeler but did not doubt his qualifications from their work on the governor-elect’s natural resources transition committee.
“He’s incredibly qualified, smart and very qualified,” Stewart told the newspaper. “Now, I’ve already heard from some of my fellow Democrats and friends on the other side of the aisle. But it seems to me their objection is that he worked with President Trump.
While candidates can be rejected, it is not uncommon in the Commonwealth.
In 2006, Republicans in the House of Delegates prevented Democratic Governor Tim Kaine from appointing former labor leader Daniel LeBlanc as Commonwealth Secretary, in large part due to the then-candidate’s opposition to the state’s Right to Work Act. This particular law ensures that employees can choose not to pay fees to the union, even if employees benefit from protections.
In 2014, the Republican-led House of Delegates rejected then-Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe’s selection of Boyd Marcus for a position on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC), although it was approved by the state Senate. Marcus, a well-known Republican strategist in the Commonwealth, worked for McAuliffe’s successful 2013 governorship campaign.
Yongkin said last month that he would use the executive action to remove Virginia from the regional greenhouse gas initiative — a program designed to reduce emissions from power plants — but it is unclear whether he has the ability to make such a decision since agreeing to the state’s participation. by the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2020.
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