THE LIGHTBULB

Andrew Wheeler inched closer Wednesday to becoming the official administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But if or when the acting director is confirmed by the Senate (and it's almost guaranteed to be “when"), he will do so with less support than he had last year when he was confirmed as the EPA's No. 2 official. 

Susan Collins, the moderate Republican from Maine, said Wednesday that she will not vote to confirm Wheeler to the position atop the agency. Neither will Joe Manchin III, the centrist Democrat from coal-producing West Virginia, after voting Wednesday against advancing Wheeler's nomination in the Senate.

Both senators had supported Wheeler when he was confirmed to be the EPA's deputy administrator, but said they have found his record at the agency too lacking to support him again.

While Wheeler remains popular with the vast majority of elected Republicans, and reviled among most Democrats, these two defections are the latest sign the EPA's rollback of environmental rules is wearing thin among those in the middle of the political spectrum.

Collins praised Wheeler for acting ethically at the agency and understanding its mission “unlike Scott Pruitt,” the former EPA chief who became mired in investigations of his spending and managing conduct. But she faulted Wheeler for halting efforts by President Barack Obama's administration to curb greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and power plants. 

“While Mr. Wheeler is certainly qualified for this position, I have too many concerns with the actions he has taken during his tenure as Acting Administrator to be able to support his promotion,” she said in a statement. 

Manchin, meanwhile, said Wheeler was not making “meaningful progress” on clean water standards, citing the agency's failure to limit the amount of certain pollutants — called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — going into the water of some industrial towns in his and other states. The EPA announced this month it plans to place legal limits on PFAS concentrations but has not done so. 

“I believe immediate action must be taken, and these efforts lack a sense of urgency,” he said.

Both senators cited the EPA's attempt to undo rules designed to limit emissions of mercury, which can damage the brains of infants and young children. As Manchin noted, “the industry doesn’t even support” that rollback.

But those no votes probably aren't enough to stop Wheeler from being confirmed. The rest of the Republicans in the Senate appear to support President Trump's EPA pick, virtually guaranteeing his confirmation by the GOP-controlled chamber. On Wednesday, the Senate advanced his nomination to lead the agency in a 52-to-46 vote along party lines. (Collins voted yes on that procedural vote while vowing to vote no on Wheeler's final confirmation.)

Collins is one a handful of Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020 who has shown a willingness to buck Trump at times on environmental issues. Last year, for example, Thom Tillis of North Carolina helped sink the nomination of Michael Dourson to be the EPA's top chemical safety official over concerns about his “body of work” for chemical companies. 

POWER PLAYS

 — No promise of a Green New Deal vote in the House: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to commit to holding a vote in the chamber. When asked about the resolution at an event at Howard University, she said: “I can’t say we’re going to take that and pass it because we have to go through our checks and balances of it with our committee chairs and the rest.” She added that Democratic lawmakers and committee leaders would prioritize binding legislation to address climate change over the nonbinding resolution, Roll Call reports. “We welcome all the enthusiasm that people want to put on the table, and the Green New Deal is one of them, but we have to operate in a way that’s evidence-based, current in its data,” she said.

Meanwhile, senators quarrel over the planned Senate vote: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) again criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for the planned vote on the Green New Deal. “The games they are playing here will have no meaning. This is not a debate. It's a diversion. It's a sham,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. Schumer also referenced a climate resolution he’s introducing, backed by the entire caucus, that will say climate change is real and human-driven, and call on Congress to take action. “We’re going to keep asking him and every Republican in this chamber what they would do about climate change, about global warming,” Schumer said.

Earlier, McConnell said all senators would “have a chance to go on record, loud and clear,” on the Green New Deal: “Do our Democratic colleagues really support this fantasy novel masquerading as public policy?”

Over on the other side of the Capitol: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, ate a hamburger during a news conference outside the Capitol before, as he claimed, beef is “outlawed” by the Green New Deal. Bishop, like other Republicans, have latched onto a later-withdrawn fact sheet from one of the main sponsors of the resolution, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), which suggested addressing emissions from "farting cows." Earlier this month, Trump mocked the resolution on Twitter, suggesting it would “permanently eliminate” all cows, among other things.

— Trump selects top Interior Department lawyer: President Trump has nominated Daniel Jorjani, currently the department’s principal deputy solicitor, to be the agency’s solicitor. It’s a role that’s been vacant since January 2017. “Democrats on Capitol Hill are expected to raise concerns about Jorjani's ties to the Koch brothers. His résumé includes stints at both the Charles Koch Institute and the Charles Koch Foundation,” E&E News reports. In the absense of an actual solicitor, Jorjani has played a key role as a troubleshooter on regulatory issues during his time in the department, The Post's Juliet Eilperin and I reported last year.

THERMOMETER

— Lakes are people, my friend: Voters in Toledo, Ohio this week easily passed a measure to allow citizens to sue on behalf of the Great Lake if it’s at risk of major environmental harm. The measure passed with 61 percent approval in a special election, Cleveland.com reports. But the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, which essentially would give the lake the same legal rights like a person, is already facing a challenge. A farmer in the state filed a lawsuit, arguing it “violates federal constitutional rights, including equal protection and freedom of speech, and is unenforceable for its vagueness,” per the report.  

OIL CHECK

— PG&E first told regulators it would fix old line that started Camp Fire in 2013: California utility PG&E Corp. repeatedly delayed maintenance to an old power line suspected of causing California's deadliest in history, according to the Wall Street Journal. Federal regulators were first told in 2013 that the company planned to replace parts of the Caribou-Palermo line, and PG&E again sought to overhaul the line in 2014, 2015 and 2016. But the project never started. Then in November 2018, a wire snapped free from the century-old line, sparking an electric arc. “Within hours, what became known as the Camp Fire destroyed Paradise and killed 85 people,” per the report. “California fire investigators haven’t yet determined the fire’s cause.”

— Electric future: In its push to compete with Tesla, Volvo launched its first all-electric vehicle, the Polestar 2. And it’s the most likely of any of the electric luxury vehicles that will be able to compete price-wise with Tesla’s Model 3, Bloomberg reports. “[T]he Polestar 2 will cost about 59,900 euros ($68,100) for its launch edition and can be driven for around 275 miles before it needs recharging — broadly in line with the Model 3’s current price in Europe of 58,800 euros and about 260 miles range,” according to Reuters.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the IEA’s World Energy Outlook.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on the Paris climate agreement.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— “Februburied”: The mountain ranges along the West Coast have this month seen as high as 300 inches or 25 feet of snow. “While these monthly snowfall totals are hard to fathom, it seems the high marks should fall short of the snowiest month all time for the state of California,” The Post’s Ian Livingston writes.