Tomorrow, as the government shutdown continues, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wheeler, an ex-lobbyist, previously worked for Canadian uranium company Energy Fuels Inc. (EFI), where he lobbied the Trump administration in an effort to undermine the Bears Ears National Monument designation in Utah. Wheeler has been serving as the Acting Administrator of the EPA since his scandal-plagued predecessor, Scott Pruitt, resigned last July.
“As a lobbyist for a foreign corporation, Andrew Wheeler advocated for undermining the Bears Ears National Monument designation — a push that resulted in the largest reduction of federal lands protections in American history,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of Western Values Project. “Considering his clear disregard for protecting America’s public lands, combined with his laundry list of conflicts of interest stemming from his days as a lobbyist, Senators cannot support another swamp creature like Wheeler.”
Wheeler’s former employer, EFI, lobbied the Trump administration to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument because the existing boundaries threatened to impede a transport road for EFI. EFI owns an inactive uranium mine on the western edge of what used to be Bears Ears National Monument and the White Mesa uranium mill on the eastern side, and wanted to ensure they could truck uranium ore across the monument.
Wheeler represented EFI as a lobbyist at a July 2017 meeting with Department of Interior officials, the purpose of which was “to discuss the Bears Ears National Monument.” Wheeler’s and EFI’s lobbying worked. Several months later, on December 4, 2017, President Trump announced a drastic reduction to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the largest public lands reduction in U.S. history.
Wheeler’s nomination also poses serious conflict of interest issues as his former employer hasn’t been shy about its efforts to lobby the EPA. Western Values Project (WVP) discovered a video of EFI’s investor conference on January 26, 2018, where President and CEO Mark Chalmers says the company is “lobbying [the EPA] very heavily” to win contracts to process waste from abandoned uranium mines in Navajo country. Although he has already been the de facto Administrator since Pruitt’s departure, if confirmed, Wheeler will run the EPA as the permanent Administrator.
Wheeler’s hearing will happen while the EPA remains closed during the historic government shutdown. Environmental groups have demanded that the Senate postpone Wheeler’s hearing until the shutdown ends.