Time for Fireworks — Youngkin Appoints Trump EPA Chief

Andrew Wheeler

by James A. Bacon

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has signaled a major shift in Virginia’s environmental policy with two appointments: Andrew Wheeler as Secretary of Natural Resources and Michael Rolband as Director of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

“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,” Youngkin said. “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.” 

Wheeler is sure to be a lightning rod for environmental policy. As EPA chief, he attracted extensive negative attention from environmentalists. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) lost no time in denouncing him. “Governor-elect Youngkin has indicated that he is intent on making his first step on environmental issues a huge step backward,” said the activist group in a press release that arrived in my in-box even before Youngkin’s announcement.

Youngkin said he intends to address “ongoing environmental, energy, and natural resources challenges,” specifically identifying Chesapeake Bay protection, storm water management issues, and creation of a Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority. There was no explicit word in the press release about his attitude toward the Virginia Clean Economy Act or the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline project.

Wheeler served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump administration, and has worked in private law practice in the energy field. He has an extensive background in a wide range of energy-related issues.

CCAN Action Fund Director Kim Germaine described him as having served as “a henchman for the coal industry and the Trump administration.” Wheeler, according to CCAN, rolled back Clean Water Act protections, rescinded the standing Clean Power Plan, and “tried to weaken public protections around vehicle emissions, power plant pollution, and drinking water. Overall, Wheeler’s policies represented a full-scale attack on EPA’s core mission of protecting the environment and public health.”

Rolband will replace David Paylor as chief of the DEQ, Virginia’s primary environmental regulatory agency. Youngkin thanked Paylor for his career as “an invaluable public servant.”

Rolband founded Wetland Studies and Solutions (WSSI), a natural resources consulting firm, and started Virginia’s first wetland mitigation bank. “Over nearly 30 years,” says the press release, “his company provided services and permit approvals on over 8,000 projects across 300,000 acres in the region, including data centers, major transportation infrastructure, master planned communities, and office and industrial developments.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Creating a zero-carbon economy in Virginia is obviously not a Youngkin priority. To the contrary, his statement makes it clear that the pursuit of environmental sustainability should not sacrifice reliability or drive up consumer costs. Rather than focus on halting global climate change, he is emphasizing environmental issues that directly impact Virginia — cleaning up the Bay, addressing storm water issues, and dealing with sea-level rise, a consequence of climate change.

The appointment of Wheeler, which is sure to generate controversy, suggests that Youngkin is not inclined to take a conciliatory, compromising approach with Virginia environmentalists. Line up the fireworks and grab a pack of matches. This could get wild.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


32 responses to “Time for Fireworks — Youngkin Appoints Trump EPA Chief”

  1. Rob Austin Avatar
    Rob Austin

    As Obama said, “Elections have consequences.”

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Uh yep. Elect a clown, expect a circus.

  2. Youngkins’ first win for the Commonwealth.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      His first rejection?

      1. Nobody wants the lefty politics; your narrative is falling apart everywhere but you will never know because you are watching Stelter and Toobin on CNN

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Hannity refused to be sworn before testifying. The oath would violate his Fox contract.

  3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    Hmmmm… seems that McAuliffe was correct after all…. Trumpians come to power in Virginia….

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        In the open now, eh… Just typical CONservative dishonesty…

        1. I’ve never denied it, I love the America of the founding, as does every patriot. Only the Fascists hide in the shadows until, having acquired enough power, try to change the rules.

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            Not you, the “moderate” Youngkin. I know you are a rightwing nut job.

          2. Oh touché you are such troll I will probably just concede to your mighty brain. Oh mighty Eric the USA hater I will now bow down to Euro-socialism and proclaim Eric the ‘mighty super-duper’ because he called me a name.

          3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            I didn’t call you a name… I properly IDed you… just repeated your first post of this thread is all… wear it proudly!!

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Truth is rarely flashy.

          5. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll


    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Okay Doc. Bugs, this is Elmer. Elmer, Bugs.

  4. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is taking a less confrontational approach than CCAN. I would call it wait-and-see. Its press release cites the coastal resiliency master plan and water quality programs. States the press release:

    “We call on our next Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, working with Governor-Elect Youngkin and experienced legislators, to seize this extraordinary opportunity to fully fund water quality programs for agriculture and stormwater and ensure Virginia meets its pollution reduction commitments under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint by 2025 while preparing communities for threats from climate change.”

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    What manner of trumpery is this?

  6. Many of the environmental NGOs wanted Mr. David Paylor fired for supposedly being too pro-business anyway.

    Setting that aside, this is the first action that would lead me to reconsider my Governor Youngkin vote. It is very much possible to truly balance environmental protection and economic development goals as was done by the four or five governors prior to Governor Northam.

    I don’t know anything about Mr. Rolband. Hopefully, he is qualified to run a a large state agency with a multitude of different programs and statutory responsibilities. However, Mr. Wheeler’s record is one of hyper partisanship that does not come close to any kind of balance.

    This is the kind of action that will likely lead to the loss of moderate votes that helped elect Governor Youngkin as referenced by Mr. energyNOW.

    For that reason, it would be actually be a good thing if Mr. Hall-Sizemore’s foretelling comes true.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Each Cabinet appointment is subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. I can’t remember if resolutions confirming Governor’s appointments go to the Rules Committee or the subject matter committee in the Senate. If it is Rules, Democrats have a 11-4 majority; if the subject mater committee, Democrats have a 8-7 majority on the Argiculture, Conservation, and Natural Resource Committee. I would not be surprised if the Wheeler nomination does not get out of committee in the Senate.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      That would be a new depth of partisanship for VA. I say this as somebody who spoke in favor of Danny LeBlanc’s appointment against R objections.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I am glad you reminded me of that one. I vaguely remembered someone being rejected. More recently, Republicans blocked the appointment of Boyd Marcus by McAuliffe to the ABC Board. So, there is precedent set by Republicans. Therefore, why do you say that blocking Wheeler would be “a new depth of partisanship for Va.”?

        I think the depth of partisanship was reached when Senate Republicans threw Jane Roush off the Supreme Court, not because she was unqualified but because they could.

        1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          I am beginning to wonder if Wheeler is a sacrificial lamb nomination. Kind of like how developers always make their first application so over the top that anything else looks terrific in comparison…

    2. VaPragamtist Avatar

      This was apparently leaked to Politico this morning. I wonder if that leak was intentional, to more openly gauge the response of Dems before the official announcement, in order to see if the confirmation would go through?

  8. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

    Presumably significant development for Dominion’s ( democrat I believe) CEO who came in after Tom Farrell. But the obvious thing is we are divided as a nation and as a purple state, hence we have a very hard time finding a path forward that everyone agrees with. And its back and forth unless someone stays in power, or unless we finally find a middle road we can all agree to. I always thought of Virginia as, well not California Blue for sure, but for a minute there, I thought I had it all wrong.

  9. Moderate Avatar

    Yep, these appointments show us that Youngkin is more extreme than he appeared during campaign season. It’s a real shame that he chose to go with such radical appointments. Until now, he’s made expected and reasonable appointments. These are designed to inflame.

    Ethically, how can someone who has testified publicly on behalf of MVP at a DEQ hearing now head the agency?

    Both appointments are disappointing.

    1. VaNavVet Avatar

      It is a shame that Youngkin has chosen a combative approach which will invite numerous legal challenges rather than a collaborative one which might result in a better chance of accomplishing something.

  10. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

    In national news sounds like WV’s Manchin is saying he supports the Biden electrification/EV part of the Dem agenda, which I suppose makes sense since WV is coal power exporter state. So Wheeler (coal lobbyist?) may be on same page as Manchin, who knows what Youngkin sees as the need for pro-utility electrification mandates for EV’s? I think we need to wait and see what policies Youngkin is pushing, and let’s be honest, he needs to focus on just just a few major things in a short 4 yrs with a purple state.

  11. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    A clear case of either the Red Queen or Humpty Dumpty–verdict first; trial later. I have known Andy for over 20 years. He has a distinguished career in public service and is no political hack. Youngkin should not make him a sacrificial lamb but instead should fight like hell to get him confirmed. Otherwise, if he gets rolled this early, he’ll get rolled often.

Leave a Reply