Former Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will be secretary of natural resources, and former Federal Reserve System Chief Information Officer Margaret “Lyn” McDermid will be secretary of administration, Glenn Youngkin’s campaign announced Wednesday. Youngkin also announced that Michael Rolband will be the director of environmental quality.
“Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio in place to fuel our economic growth, continued preservation of our natural resources, and a comprehensive plan to tackle rising sea levels. Andrew and Michael share my vision in finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, dependable, and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s power demands without passing the costs on to the consumer,” said Governor-elect Youngkin.
“Together, we will address Virginia’s ongoing environmental, energy, and natural resources challenges, including protecting the Chesapeake Bay, fully funding our best management practices, solving longstanding storm water management issues, and establishing a Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority,” he said.
Youngkin expressed support for an all-of-the-above energy policy using both renewable and fossil fuel energy sources. He also expressed a desire to pull Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an 11-state cap-and-trade initiative aimed at reducing utility carbon dioxide emissions
by requiring utilities to bid for carbon dioxide allowances in state auctions. Youngkin may face challenges pulling Virginia from RGGI, since it was passed by the General Assembly as part of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA)
, and Senate Democrats are likely to oppose reversal.
Youngkin’s best chance to change Virginia’s environmental policy probably lies in executive power, including in the appointment of people like Wheeler to the new administration’s cabinet.
Wheeler drew attention in September by speaking out against a five-cent single-use plastic bag tax in Fairfax, where he lives. WAMU reported
that Wheeler warned that reusable bags also have problems, and said recycling processes should be improved to address grocery bag pollution.
Politico Morning Energy had a scoop on Wheeler’s appointment before Youngkin’s team announced it, leading to instant pushback and concern from Democrats over Wheeler’s appointment.
During their recent control, Democrats passed major environmental reforms, including the VCEA. There isn’t complete unity among Republican legislators over environmental policy, but there seems to be a consensus that at least some of those reforms need to be walked back to address Virginians’ cost of living. They see Wheeler’s appointment as a warning sign of Youngkin’s future policy.
“Protecting our environment affects the quality of life of all Virginians, from ensuring clean drinking water and air, to combating climate change and the devastating weather events that it causes. Retreating in our efforts to preserve our natural resources and make our Commonwealth more sustainable is a disservice to all of us and ultimately to the future of our children,” outgoing Speaker of the House of Delegates Eileen Filler Corn said in a press release. “With the naming today of Donald Trump’s former EPA Administrator to steward Virginia’s environment, Glenn Youngkin has made clear he does not share the priorities and concerns of a majority of Virginians on these issues.”
Congressman Don McEachin (D-Virginia-04) called the appointment a “terrible decision.”
In a press release, he said, “Throughout his time as EPA Administrator under former President Trump, Wheeler proved he is an imprudent environmental and climate leader. A former coal lobbyist, Wheeler developed and implemented counterproductive policies that disregarded scientific advice, loosened emissions standards, allowed for unsafe levels of PFAS in drinking water, rolled back protections for our nation’s waterways, and undermined our global standing as a partner in the fight against climate change by rescinding the Clean Power Plan.”
The Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition is a group of Republican Party of Virginia insiders that are pushing for a total repeal of the VCEA. SUVGOP is also opposed to solar and wind power, unlike Youngkin. Co-Chair Ron Wright praised Wheeler’s appointment on Wednesday.
Wright cited Wheeler’s implementation of former President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13891. In September 2020, Wheeler said
the EPA would implement a transparency-focused rule change that established a petition process allowing the public to request modifications to guidance documents, required guidance documents to be reviewed and made accessible to the public, and allowed public participation in the development of guidance documents. Guidance documents are not law, but are often heavily relied upon by the EPA and other agencies, The National Law Review reported
after Trump issued the order. President Joe Biden revoked the order
“We do not know Andrew Wheeler personally but think he did an excellent job as President Trump’s EPA Administrator. Of key importance was his push for scientific transparency at EPA related to regulations,” Wright told The Virginia Star. “We can see this aligning with Governor-elect Youngkin’s policies for state governmental agencies performing in a manner that is open and transparent.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Anderskev. CC BY 3.0.