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EPA’s new leader lobbied for Colo. uranium company on shrinking Bears Ears

Author: Mark Harden - July 6, 2018 - Updated: July 6, 2018

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The man who will replace Scott Pruitt at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — at least temporarily — is a former lobbyist who represented a Colorado uranium company.

Andrew Wheeler was narrowly confirmed by the Senate as EPA’s deputy administrator in April despite opposition from environmentalists and most Senate Democrats. He will step in as acting administrator on Monday following Thursday’s resignation of Pruitt in the face of a storm of controversy over his conduct in office.

New acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler (EPA via AP)

Wheeler, 53, could serve as acting administrator for more than a year without further Senate action.

As NPR’s Rebecca Hersher noted in a March report, Wheeler “has spent much of his career working for less oversight from the agency” he will now lead.

Between 2009 and this year, Wheeler was a consultant and lobbyist, often representing large energy companies.

Says NPR:

Wheeler has worked as a registered lobbyist for, among others, a major uranium mining company, … Energy Fuels Resources Inc., … based in Colorado. Last year, the company lobbied to shrink Bears Ears National Monument (in Utah).

Colorado Public Radio’s Stephanie Wolf reported last December that the Lakewood-based company — also known as Energy Fuels Inc. — “owns a conventional uranium processing mill and a mine just outside the original boundaries of Bears Ears,” and that the company wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which runs Bears Ears, “expressing concerns that operations might be disrupted or limited by the monument’s original boundaries.”

Fortune magazine says that “while working as a lobbyist, Wheeler worked, along with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to open part of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument for uranium mining.”

Bears Ears was established in late 2016 by then-President Barack Obama near the end of his term in office. Its original size was 1.35 million acres.

Puebloan granary in the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah (US Bureau of Land Management)

The May 25, 2017, letter to the Interior Department from Mark Chalmers, Energy Fuels’ chief operating officer, says:

We are concerned that the presence of a new national monument literally adjacent to the privately-owned land acquired specifically for constructing and operating a uranium and vanadium processing facility could affect existing and future mill operations.

The Washington Post reported last December that:

Energy Fuels Resources did not just weigh in on national monuments through public-comment letters. It hired a team of lobbyists at (law firm) Faegre Baker Daniels — led by Andrew Wheeler … — to work on the matter and other federal policies affecting the company. It paid the firm $30,000 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, according to federal lobbying records, for work on this and other priorities. The company’s vice president of operations, William Paul Goranson, joined Wheeler and two other lobbyists, including former congresswoman Mary Bono (R-Calif.), to discuss Bears Ears in a July 17 (2017) meeting with two top Zinke advisers.

President Donald Trump, whose administration has been promoting expansion of nuclear energy as a means to produce electricity, last December reduced the size of Bears Ears monument by 85 percent. At the time, Chalmers issued a statement saying the company has “no intention of mining or exploring anywhere within the originally designated (Bears Ears monument).”

Wheeler also has represented Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest power utility, which has invested heavily in renewable energy.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.