Senate confirms a former coal lobbyist as Scott Pruitt’s second-in-command at EPA

If embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt were to leave office, the reins of the agency could fall to a former Senate aide and coal mining lobbyist who was confirmed 53 to 45 Thursday afternoon to become second-in-command at the EPA.

Andrew Wheeler worked at the EPA more than two decades ago and later served as an adviser to Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a high-profile critic of climate science who famously brought a snowball to the Senate floor as a prop. For the past nine years, Wheeler has been a lobbyist for a variety of companies, including Appalachian coal mining firm Murray Energy.

.. Wheeler, who works for the lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels, received $370,000 in fees last year from Murray Energy

.. Murray asked Perry to increase payments to coal and nuclear plants supplying electricity to the Midwest and Appalachia. Perry tried to implement such a plan, but independent electricity regulators rejected it.

 .. “It is critically important that the public understand Wheeler’s career as a lobbyist for some of the worst actors in the energy industry,” Keith Gaby, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in an email this week. “Andrew Wheeler running EPA would go far beyond having an administrator overly influenced by lobbyists — the head of EPA would be an energy industry lobbyist.”
.. “The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment, but Andrew Wheeler has dedicated his career to weakening environmental protections, serving as a lobbyist for numerous fossil fuel clients, including one of our country’s biggest polluters, Murray Energy
.. Karpinski pointed to a measure Inhofe co-sponsored known as the Clear Skies Act, which would have undermined the landmark Clean Air Act. Inhofe was a vocal critic of climate-change science, which he said was “the greatest hoax” ever foisted on U.S. citizens.

.. Wheeler spent four years as a career employee at the EPA under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton before moving to the Hill.

.. Wheeler wrote a post on his personal Facebook account the day before Super Tuesday pleading with those considering voting for Trump to reconsider. In his six-point critique, Wheeler questioned Trump’s character, business acumen and viability as a general-election candidate. Trump was a “bully,” Wheeler wrote in the since-deleted Facebook post obtained by The Post. He said that Trump “hasn’t been that successful” in business and “has more baggage then all of the other Republican candidates combined.”

.. Wheeler added that Trump “has demonstrated through the debates and interviews that he doesn’t understand how the government works.”

.. But Wheeler has changed his tune.

“I was just looking at the debates and what I saw on the news, and I hadn’t focused on what he was saying,”

.. when I started looking into what he was saying and what his campaign and what his candidacy was about, I was fully on board.”

.. Three Democrats voted for Wheeler, all from coal states. They included Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).

.. “Andrew Wheeler is Big Oil’s backup plan in case Scott Pruitt’s corruption finally finishes him,”

Russian-American lobbyist joined Trump’s son’s meeting, too

Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his involvement to The Associated Press in an interview. He had not been previously identified as a participant in the meeting at Trump Tower in New York, which was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign.

Akhmetshin told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but he was never formally trained as a spy.

.. He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

.. Akhmetshin said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort because they worked in “adjacent political circles” but never together.

.. Schiff said Trump Jr.’s omission of Akhmetshin’s role in his public account of the meeting and the president’s son’s shifting explanations “paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit.”

..  he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence.”

..  in a March letter that Akhmetshin has “reportedly admitted to being a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’ and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters.”

How Wartime Washington Lives in Luxury

It is common knowledge that Wall Street and its inflated compensation packages have remade Manhattan into an exclusive playground for the rich, just as tech moguls have made San Francisco unaffordable for the middle class. It is less well known that the estimated $4 trillion spent since 9/11 on the war on terrorism and billions spent on political campaigns ($6 billion on the 2012 elections alone) have trickled down so extravagantly to the New Class settled around Washington’s Beltway that they have remade the landscape of our capital.

The perfect storm—hundreds of billions in federal procurement dollars flooding into the area after 9/11, along with the easing of corporate campaign fundraising thanks to the now infamous Citizens United decision—has deepened the trough for lawyers, lobbyists, consultants, developers and contractors.

.. Further out, there are the rooted, old-money neighborhoods of North Arlington, McLean, and Potomac in Maryland, where the Washington establishment began migrating in the 1970s, and now overloaded with “the better heeled sort”—government executives, surgeons, politicians, venture capitalists, think tankers, lobbyists, and fundraisers who have made it. Just outside the Beltway are places like Great Falls, where the median home price is $1.3 million. In 2011, according to a Washington Post feature about the rewards of the contracting boom, 16 percent of Great Falls households were earning $500,000 or more a year and at least more than half made $250,000.

.. He says even more than the strivers of Arlington, and the settled elite of the inner burbs, this metamorphosizing sprawl represents everything that is perverse about the last 15 years—the war machine, the big money politics, the hubris of the one-percent, and the brutality of losing, as professions that did not so easily escape the recession, left people unemployed, foreclosed, and priced out of an area they once called “home.”

.. “Loudoun is per capita the richest county in the country as well as one of the most Republican and is something of a world headquarters of the McMansion as a lifestyle statement,” Lofgren writes. Living in these totems of new wealth, he says are “executives of Beltway Bandit firms, totally dependent on the federal government for their livelihoods,” pretending “to lead the life of a free Jeffersonian squirearchy.”

.. From 2009 to 2015, Virginia received $295 billion in federal contracting dollars. That’s more than the annual budgets of entire countries, including Saudi Arabia, Belgium, and Sweden. This has resulted in not only an exploding real estate market, but the wealthiest counties in the country, year over year.