STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Ex-coal lobbyist takes over for Pruitt at EPA

One of the energy companies that the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler worked for as a lobbyist is seeking contracts from the agency, raising questions among environmentalists about whether he can put his past behind him as he becomes the nation's top environmental protector.

Posted: Jul 8, 2018 2:50 PM
Updated: Jul 8, 2018 2:56 PM

One of the energy companies that the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency worked for as a lobbyist is seeking contracts from the agency, raising questions among environmentalists about whether he can put his past behind him as he becomes the nation's top environmental protector.

Since 2009, Andrew Wheeler -- who was announced as the acting leader of the EPA after Scott Pruitt resigned Thursday -- has lobbied for at least 17 companies, including Energy Fuels Inc., the largest supplier of uranium in the US. Wheeler's other clients ranged from companies providing coal, gas and nuclear energy to a mix of clients in the auto and food industries.

As Wheeler prepares to take charge of EPA, the company he once lobbied for is trying to win contracts to clean up abandoned uranium mines, according to EFI's website and its CEO, Mark Chalmers.

Chalmers recently told investors the company is "lobbying very heavily" to get the contracts to help clean up depleted uranium mines on lands in the Four Corners area, including property owned by the Navajo Nation. There are more than 500 abandoned mines, some of which are already part of the EPA's Superfund program. EFI is well situated to do the cleanups as it has the only mill in the area and routinely processes uranium there, he said.

Chalmers told CNN their proposal to the EPA is in its early stages, and in a statement said, "We offer the EPA an established, low-cost option to move material off the Navajo Nation, recycle it into fuel for carbon-free nuclear energy, and dispose of the remnants in existing state-of-the-art facilities. Our understanding is that Mr. Wheeler will not be involved in any decision on this Energy Fuels proposal."

EFI's activities -- and Wheeler's connections to the company -- worry environmentalists, who aren't thrilled to see a former energy lobbyist take over as the nation's new top environmental cop.

"We see Mr. Wheeler as fitting a very typical pattern of behavior," said Chris Saeger, of the Western Values Project. "He started off in the Senate, then went to a lobbying firm. Now he will be at a very high-ranking position at the EPA, where he will be in a position to make lots of decisions that could benefit his former clients. That's a disturbing pattern that I think is very common to natural resources management in general in the Trump administration."

Wheeler declined an interview with CNN, instead offering a statement defending his ethics record.

"Under my ethics agreement with the Agency, I will have no involvement with EFI for two years," he said in the statement offered by the agency.

"Directly following the 2016 election, I voluntarily stopped any advocacy activity with EPA under the anticipation that I might be considered for a position at the Agency," Wheeler added.

But that doesn't mean Wheeler wasn't lobbying other parts of the Trump administration following the election.

In 2017, EFI, along with other companies, sought to shrink the size of Bears Ears National Monument, which was designated as protected land under the Obama administration in 2016. Bears Ears threatened to impede an important transport road for EFI and the company feared it could hinder its operations, according to an SEC filing and a letter Chalmers sent to the Department of Interior.

As a lobbyist for EFI, Wheeler was present at a meeting he helped arrange in July 2017 with officials from the Department of Interior, according to emails obtained by the Sierra Club through the Freedom of Information Act, and confirmed by Wheeler to CNN. Wheeler's and others' lobbying efforts worked: Late last year, President Donald Trump traveled to Utah to officially announce the reduction of Bears Ears. The decision was seen as a victory for EFI and other companies.

While Wheeler did not lobby the EPA while he was under consideration for a job at the agency, his lobbying firm's colleagues did.

An internal EPA email shows that the same month Wheeler was lobbying the Interior Department to shrink Bears Ears, his lobbying colleagues at Faegre-Baker-Daniels were over at the EPA discussing abandoned uranium mines and their cleanup contracts.

Critics had charged that Wheeler's recent work as an industry lobbyist made him unfit for the job as second in command at an agency that has regulatory oversight and authority over the very industries for which he lobbied.

Wheeler left a position as a top aide in the Senate nearly a decade ago to become a successful lobbyist for the energy industry. His main client was the largest coal producer in the US.

He has long been a harsh critic of climate change science. And while in the Senate, he worked for Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who's a major climate change skeptic and who told CNN last year the EPA is "brainwashing our kids."

This spring the Senate confirmed Wheeler to become deputy director of the EPA.

Pruitt defended his pick for deputy at the time. When Wheeler was confirmed, Pruitt praised him in a statement, writing, "Andrew Wheeler has spent his entire career advancing sound environmental policies and I look forward to him bringing his expertise and leadership to the agency."

CNN's Curt Devine and Aaron Kessler contributed to this report.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31865

Reported Deaths: 539
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah7022136
Marion456992
Washington441759
Umatilla293941
Clackamas234661
Malheur158926
Jackson11094
Lane109616
Deschutes79312
Yamhill75013
Jefferson5218
Polk51515
Linn49513
Morrow4946
Lincoln47613
Union4392
Benton2946
Klamath2792
Wasco2793
Hood River2490
Douglas2244
Josephine1952
Columbia1551
Coos1490
Clatsop1310
Baker922
Crook621
Tillamook510
Curry310
Lake290
Wallowa281
Sherman180
Harney120
Grant90
Gilliam80
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 799516

Reported Deaths: 15393
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2644146455
Riverside578831179
San Bernardino53359918
Orange526221182
San Diego45596773
Kern31712360
Fresno28019362
Sacramento21872399
Alameda20951397
Santa Clara20756304
San Joaquin20126437
Stanislaus16436345
Contra Costa16238204
Tulare15829259
Ventura12591146
Imperial11741317
San Francisco1094699
San Mateo9714144
Monterey970170
Santa Barbara8973113
Merced8828140
Kings756977
Sonoma7262120
Marin6641114
Solano627863
Madera445865
Placer353544
San Luis Obispo347929
Butte279043
Yolo278255
Santa Cruz22949
Sutter168911
Napa165313
San Benito132111
Yuba11367
El Dorado10884
Mendocino89418
Shasta75916
Lassen7360
Glenn5713
Tehama5334
Lake53011
Nevada5286
Colusa5246
Humboldt4967
Calaveras31414
Amador29616
Tuolumne2274
Inyo18715
Mono1652
Siskiyou1630
Del Norte1381
Mariposa752
Plumas500
Modoc250
Trinity150
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Medford
Clear
50° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 50°
Brookings
Scattered Clouds
54° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 54°
Crater Lake
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 37°
Grants Pass
Overcast
44° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 38°
Klamath Falls
Clear
37° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 37°
Spotty afternoon showers
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events