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Through Sarah vogelsong

Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has announced that Trump’s EPA chief and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is his choice for Virginia’s next natural and historic resources secretary.

“Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio to fuel our economic growth, the continued preservation of our natural resources and a comprehensive plan to combat sea level rise,” Youngkin said in a press release announcing no only his selection of Wheeler, but his intention to replace long-time Department of Environmental Quality director David Paylor with director of the wetland restoration company, Michael Rolband.

“Andrew and Michael share my vision in finding new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, reliable and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s electricity demands without passing costs on to Virginia. the consumer, ”Youngkin said.

The choice, which was first broken by Politico early Wednesday, and announced by Youngkin’s transition team on Wednesday afternoon, sent shockwaves through environmental circles across the state.

“This is by far the most extreme nomination for an environmental position in Virginia history and the absolute worst choice the governor-elect could make,” said Mike Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. “While we were optimistic we might be able to find common ground with the new administration to move forward, this appointment is a clear signal that environmental protections are under attack in Virginia, and we are ready to fight for it. defend them. “

Wheeler, who served as a director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2019 until the end of President Donald Trump’s administration, was a franc supporter environmental deregulation during his mandate, ruffling feathers even among the scientists of his own agency.

The former coal lobbyist’s views on climate change have also troubled many environmentalists. While Wheeler during his EPA appointment confirmation hearings said that “Climate change is real” and “man has an impact on it”, he subsequently oversaw the implementation of numerous regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

Among the measures taken during his tenure were the cancellation of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which was never enacted to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants as well as the policy of the Obama administration stricter fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Current Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring has sued Wheeler and his EPA at least six times over environmental issues.

Since the end of his tenure at the EPA, Wheeler has slowly entered Virginia politics. In September he spoke out against a five-cent tax on plastic bags at a hearing before the Fairfax County Board of Directors. In November, following massive Republicans’ victories in the Virginia election, he was named to Youngkin’s transition team.

Youngkin’s choice of Wheeler for the post of natural resources secretary quickly sparked opposition from Democrats, who were already wary of the new governor’s environmental stance after Youngkin’s surprise announcement in December of his intention to use the action by the executive to remove Virginia from a regional carbon market. Virginia’s participation in this market had been a top priority for Democrats when they took office in 2020.

Virginia Democratic Party President Susan Swecker said Youngkin’s choice “makes it clear that his administration will continue to fail in Virginia on climate change as sea levels rise, rains get more severe and that record temperatures threaten our economy and our natural resources. ”

However, where Democratic opposition matters most will be in the Senate, where the party maintains a narrow 21-19 advantage and could potentially block a nomination like Wheeler’s.

Senator Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said on Wednesday that although Senate Democrats did not discuss the choice of natural resources as a caucus, “I think a lot of our members are going to have very serious concerns” with Wheeler.

“I think any Republican member who takes a competitive suburban seat would really need to think twice before voting for someone like him given where Virginia leads environmental policy,” Surovell said.

Jacqueline Hixson, spokesperson for the Senate Democrats, said in an email that she couldn’t “definitively say whether any appointment of Youngkin will be confirmed by the Senate.

Harry Godfrey, executive director of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy, a group of clean energy companies that was one of the main architects of Democratic climate legislation in 2020, said “it is vital” that the Senate is reviewing Wheeler’s case with the EPA to “determine whether it aligns with the political direction the General Assembly has set in recent years.

Virginia, under its last two years of Democratic control, has made national headlines for its efforts to tackle climate change through decarbonization with a list of policies more in line with those of the Mid-Atlantic states and of New England than its southern neighbors.

Under the leadership of Governor Ralph Northam and the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly, Virginia passed measures committing the the state’s electricity grid will become carbon-free by 2045, authorizing participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and investment market and the adoption of stricter auto emissions standards in California in place of the feds.

The energy industry has reacted to the policy measures. Large-scale solar power is on track to become the state’s third largest source of electricity this year, replacing coal, according to a report from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. In a major victory for the state’s efforts to become the main offshore wind hub on the east coast, Siemens Gamesa announced in October that it would build the the country’s first offshore wind turbine blade installation in Portsmouth.

The state’s two largest electric utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company, have also turned to renewables. Power of the Appalachians started to draw solar energy for the first time this fall and released on Tuesday what he calls his “most robust renewable energy plan to date”, With plans to add nearly 500 megawatts of solar and wind power over the next three years.

Dominion, which provides to build a huge 2.6 gigawatt wind farm off Virginia Beach, has almost completely divested its natural gas business and sells to investors what it describes as “the biggest, the widest, the longest and the longest.” Most Visible Regulated Decarbonization Opportunity Among U.S. Utilities. ”

However, Republicans, including Youngkin, have criticized many of the new policies as being too costly for consumers and too risky for the electricity grid, pointing to a 2020 State Corporation Commission estimate that the Virginia Clean Economy Act will increase costs. annual average residential customer $ 800 by 2030. During his campaign, Youngkin described the VCEA as “impractical” and warned that the transition to renewables would result in “blackouts and brownouts and a grid. unreliable energy ”.

James V. Payne