Republican senator Collins opposes Trump’s pick for EPA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican senator said on Wednesday she will oppose Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, further complicating the nominee’s path to approval by the Senate.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler addresses staff at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen

Senator Susan Collins said Wheeler’s efforts to roll back standards on emissions blamed for climate change takes the country in the wrong direction.

Her position comes as Trump’s pick also faces a backlash from other Republican lawmakers over his support of policies favorable to the ethanol industry and could make it harder for him to win the majority of votes in the 100-member, Republican-led chamber required for approval.

Five Republican senators from oil states, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, sent a letter to Wheeler dated Feb. 11 asking him about his biofuels policies, and saying their support for his confirmation could hinge on his responses.

The Senate hopes to vote this week on Wheeler, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

A bipartisan group of senators has also pressured Wheeler to take stronger actions to control a group of toxic chemicals found in some U.S. drinking water known as PFAS, used in Teflon and firefighting foam. Wheeler said this month the EPA plans to take actions on the pollutants but stopped short of setting limits until later this year.

The EPA declined to comment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wheeler, a former lobbyist for coal and other energy interests, has been running the EPA since his predecessor Scott Pruitt resigned in July under a cloud of ethics controversies. Collins said that Wheeler is qualified for the job and acts in accordance with ethical standards.

“However, the policies he has supported as Acting Administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation,” said Collins, who added that her state of Maine is at the receiving end of pollution generated by coal-fired power plants in other states.

Since becoming acting administrator, Wheeler has overseen proposals to roll back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan on carbon emissions from power plants, limits on mercury emissions from coal plants, and standards on carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks.

Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, voted last year to confirm Wheeler as deputy administrator at the EPA.

Two Democrats who also supported Wheeler last year, former Senators Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly, lost their elections last year.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish

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