Virginia Senate Democrats block Youngkin’s pick for natural resources secretary

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Democrats used their narrow majority in the state Senate to block Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s nomination of Andrew Wheeler as Virginia’s secretary of natural resources.

Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump, is the only Youngkin cabinet pick Democrats have fought against. Republicans claimed disapproval of Wheeler’s nomination was due in part to his stint at the EPA under Trump.

Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee removed Wheeler from a resolution confirming Youngkin’s nominations and the entire state Senate rejected a Republican push to overturn the decision in a party online vote.

The Virginia Senate, where Democrats hold a 21-19 majority, will have a final vote on Youngkin’s dates on Wednesday.

“Its record for clean air and clean water is frankly astounding. I understand politics. I understand that some of these environmental groups don’t like him because of who he worked for. And that’s really too bad,” Sen. Richard H. Stuart (R-King George) said ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

Senate Democrats acknowledged their respect for Wheeler’s credentials and praised the way he handled tough questions about his background during committee hearings.

State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) chaired the Virginia Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee hearing, where Wheeler was asked about his decisions leading the EPA. On Tuesday, Petersen said Wheeler “was the smartest guy in the room” but “sometimes that just isn’t enough.”

Former EPA employees urged the Virginia Senate to oppose and approve Wheeler’s nominationsharing conflicting accounts of his time as the agency’s administrator.

Youngkin’s spokesman Macaulay Porter said Wheeler’s qualifications for the role were clear, adding that the governor was “disappointed” with the vote.

“Consistent with the Constitution, he will continue to serve as Secretary of Natural and Historical Resources until the adjournment of the General Assembly. In the meantime, we hope the Senate reconsiders its decision,” Porter said in a statement.

Although the state Senate doesn’t seem likely to back Wheeler for the job, his nomination could be revived during the legislative session. The 2022 General Assembly session is scheduled to end on March 12.

The last time a candidate for a governor’s Cabinet was voted down was in 2006, when House Republicans kept the then governor. Tim Kaine’s candidate for Commonwealth Secretary, Daniel G. LeBlanc, to take the job.

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