Democrats call on acting EPA chief to distance himself from Scott Pruitt

A top Republican called on Trump to nominate Andrew Wheeler to lead EPA.

August 1, 2018, 4:49 PM

The top Republican on the Senate committee that oversees the EPA on Wednesday called for acting chief Andrew Wheeler to made permanent, while Democrats called on Wheeler to distance himself from his controversial predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

The tone of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing was vastly different from the last one with an agency administrator -- when Pruitt faced a barrage of questions and criticism.

As the hearing started, chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said he has been very impressed with Wheeler since he took over the agency last month and that he encourages President Donald Trump to nominate Wheeler as administrator.

Ranking Democrat Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, one of Pruitt's main critics, presented Wheeler with a bottle of Diet Coke that had "Wheeler" on it, a reference to a Washington Post report that Wheeler collects Coca-Cola memorabilia.

Wheeler joked that he would have to run the gift by the EPA ethics office for approval.

Carper said he was glad to finally have an oversight hearing with the head of the EPA, after multiple requests to question Pruitt about the ethical questions surrounding his time at EPA.

"What we do need to hear from Mr. Wheeler today is how he plans to differentiate himself from Mr. Pruitt across a range of environmental policies that are far more consequential," Carper said in his opening statement.

Protesters hold up signs during the testimony of Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Aug. 1, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Protesters from an environmental group highlighted those concerns -- both outside the building where the hearing was held and from inside the hearing itself -- where several were removed after quietly holding up signs with Wheeler's face on it and text that read "Pruitt Puppet."

During the hearing, senators also asked Wheeler to act more aggressively on reviews of toxic chemicals they say were delayed by Pruitt and multiple members of the committee asked for changes to the agency's process for granting waivers for biofuel requirements.

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