Andrew Wheeler, a former congressional aide and lobbyist who has led the Environmental Protection Agency since his scandal-plagued predecessor resigned earlier this year, got President Donald Trump's nod Friday for the permanent job.
Trump made the announcement in passing at a White House ceremony for Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees.
Singling out Cabinet members in the audience at the ceremony, Trump got to Wheeler and said, "acting administrator, who I will tell you is going to be made permanent."
"He's done a fantastic job and I want to congratulate him, EPA, Andrew Wheeler. Where's Andrew?" Trump continued. "Congratulations, Andrew, great job, great job, thank you very much."
The White House said Trump was signaling his intent to nominate Wheeler. The nomination would require Senate confirmation. Senators approved Wheeler as the agency's deputy administrator in a 53-45 vote last April.
A veteran on Capitol Hill, Wheeler worked from 1995 to 2009 as a staffer for Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a fervent denier of man-made climate change, and then for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Wheeler later worked as a lobbyist, including for coal giant Murray Energy Corp., which pushed hard at the outset of the Trump administration for coal-friendly policies from the EPA and other agencies.
The grandson of a coal miner, Wheeler told staffers in his first days as the agency's acting head this summer that he was proud of his roots in coal country. In the acting role, Wheeler has a reputation as a more open and cordial boss for employees than Pruitt was, and a more methodical steward of Trump's deregulatory mission.
"Compared to Administrator Pruitt, Mr. Wheeler is better," Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat and one of the most consistent critics of Trump's EPA, said Friday in a statement after Trump's announcement.
"Compared to Administrators Ruckelshaus or Whitman, he's not doing nearly as well," Carper added. He was referring to William Ruckelshaus, who was appointed by Richard Nixon to head the EPA in 1970 and Christine Todd Whitman, who was appointed to the post in 2001 by George W. Bush.
"If the president intends to nominate Andrew Wheeler to be the administrator of EPA, then Mr. Wheeler must come before our committee so that members can look at his record as acting administrator objectively to see if any improvements have been made at the agency since he took the helm."
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.