Despite a compelling cover letter to the Trump administration, former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart will not be EPA deputy administrator, a job for which he was being considered.
Instead, the Washington Post and Axios both reported, Trump intends to nominate Andrew Wheeler, coal industry lobbyist for Murray Energy, and a former aide to climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).
Jeff Holmstead, who served in the EPA under Bush the 43rd, was also in the running.
Wheeler still must be confirmed by the Senate.
It’s not surprising that Trump chose Wheeler. First, Wheeler has deep connections to Inhofe, an admirer and friend of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma. Second, Wheeler’s coal industry bonafides would certainly please Trump, who insists that he will revive the flagging coal industry. That resuscitation is unlikely, considering market forces and clean air regulations are prompting utilities to switch to natural gas and renewables.
Last fall, shortly after Trump was elected. van der Vaart sent a letter to Trump, supporting the president-elect’s desire to gut the EPA. While it’s usually not a good idea to criticize the company you’d like to work for — or advocate for its dismantling — in this case, van der Vaart was sympathizing with Trump’s hostility toward regulations.
But without a federal position in hand and a Democrat prepared to assume the office of governor, last December van der Vaart demoted himself to a non-exempt position within DEQ’s air quality division. That meant he could not be fired as part of the transfer of political transfer of power, essentially guaranteeing job protection for himself.