You Won't Believe Who Virginia's Natural Resources Chief Is Now
Credit: screenshot
January 7, 2022

On Wednesday, incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced his selection as secretary of natural resources for the state of Virginia. That selection? Andrew Wheeler.

That would be Andrew Wheeler, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Donald Trump. The Andrew Wheeler who overrode the recommendations of his own experts by refusing to ban a pesticide that is proven to cause brain damage in children. The Andrew Wheeler who decided it was perfectly fine for Americans to be exposed to much higher levels of both mercury and radiation while basing his decision on a completely unscientific theory. The Andrew Wheeler who closed down the EPA’s office that provides scientific advice, as well shutting down the office on children’s health. The Andrew Wheeler who stopped enforcing the Clean Water Rule, creating a paradise for polluters. The Andrew Wheeler who let oil and gas companies know they no longer had to worry about limits on methane emissions.  And, of course, the Andrew Wheeler who had spent his previous career as a coal lobbyist. Which helps explain why his first action in office was ditching the rule that required cleaning up toxic coal ash.

That Andrew Wheeler.

But Wheeler is more than an awful choice to be running environmental services anywhere. He’s also a perfect example of how Republicanism has worked since at least 1964: It’s a Darwinian struggle to find, and reward, the absolute worst in humanity.

Since the time of Barry Goldwater, the GOP has operated on waves of tactical extremism. That’s the system where the only possible reaction to any situation is to move to a position previously considered unthinkable. How quickly this propels Republicans into uncharted territory can be illustrated by the fact that the only two Republicans who attended services marking the anniversary of Jan. 6 were named Cheney. That’s now the “reasonable” end of the Republican spectrum.

In the meantime, every Republican—from Ted Cruz to Ron DeSantis to up-and-coming awful people like Eric Schmitt—are engaged in the race to be more terrible than they were yesterday. Because that is what their system requires. The money men, and the Republican social safety net of money-funneling organizations, are there for every Republican … if they can keep up the pace of being ever more extreme. In Wheeler’s case, that means he went straight from being a coal lobbyist, to EPA director, and then leaned back on his role in the fossil-fuel promoting National Energy Resources Organization and Washington Coal Club while awaiting his next assignment.

If Andrew Wheeler had been Trump's EPA director and simply done a good job, or even a mediocre job, he he wouldn't be getting a post in Virginia. It's because he was relentlessly terrible in every possible way that he’s getting a reward. Being the worst possible person for the job is literally what makes Wheeler the obvious choice in a Republican administration.

Wheeler’s appointment doesn’t only serve to underscore how the Republican system is designed to reward extremism. Like seeing Dick Cheney at the “good” end of the dial, it perfectly illustrates that there is no such thing as a moderate Republican in 2022.

This wasn’t an appointment made by Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott. This is coming from Youngkin, the guy who was supposed to be the example of a Republican who doesn’t worship at the altar of Trump. But here Youngkin is, proudly signaling to the guys holding the purse strings that he is in the club. That he understands the game. That the worst is what’s best for Virginia.

And the worst is what they got. One more time: Andrew Wheeler is the guy who, in March 2020, responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by using it as an excuse to stop tracking pollution. As The New York Times reported then, “The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.” From then through the end of his time at the EPA, Wheeler refused to fine companies for violating environmental regulations, and stopped requiring "routine compliance monitoring [of pollution], integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations."

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a special Top 10 List for the worst of Andrew Wheeler—a list that includes refusing to release reports that had been complete for over a year, showing that formaldehyde caused leukemia along with nose and throat cancer. Wheeler simply lied about those reports to keep them under wraps until he was gone. That’s who this guy is.

Oh, and he’s also now the secretary of natural resources for the state of Virginia.

He’ll always have a job. As long as he’s awful. Because that’s how Republicanism works.

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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