Youngkin appoints Wheeler to head new Office of Regulatory Management

New executive order calls for 25% reduction in Virginia regulatory requirements

By: - July 1, 2022 7:00 pm

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 20: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies at a hearing titled Oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will face questions as his agency faces legal challenges and criticism for easing enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic and rolling back vehicle emissions rules. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Getty Images)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has tapped Andrew Wheeler, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Donald Trump, to lead a new Office of Regulatory Management that aims to reduce Virginia’s regulatory requirements by 25 percent. 

The appointment was announced in a Thursday night executive order mandating the creation of the new office, which the governor said “will create much needed transparency and efficiency in Virginia’s regulatory process.” 

Wheeler has been a lightning rod for controversy in Virginia since Youngkin announced his intention to nominate him for Virginia secretary of natural and historic resources, the state’s highest environmental post, in January. 

A former coal lobbyist, Wheeler was an outspoken proponent of deregulation during his tenure at the EPA, overseeing rollbacks that caused backlash even within his own agency

That record was one of several strenuous objections Democrats voiced to the pick. In a move rare in Virginia, where the General Assembly has traditionally approved gubernatorial nominations as a matter of courtesy, Senate Democrats leveraged their narrow majority in that chamber to block the nomination

The failure of the confirmation triggered a political battle between Republican and Democratic legislators that eventually led the House GOP to block 11 of former Gov. Ralph Northam’s appointments, usually a routine approval. Six of those appointees were for environmental boards, giving Youngkin an edge in their staffing earlier than expected. 

Youngkin’s office later said Wheeler would continue to serve in the administration as a senior adviser.

Calling Wheeler “a career deregulatory zealot,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement that “it’s clear what comes next: a Virginia where polluters benefit and our environment suffers.” 

“This is an arbitrary executive branch office tasked with executing an arbitrary campaign promise, and while this effort may make a good Fox News headline, it has very real implications for our economy, our health, and our environment,” said Town, pointing out Virginia has several times been named the nation’s top state for business. 

Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, said several people will assist Wheeler at the new Office of Regulatory Management on a “part time basis.” 

“We will grow the office only as needed,” she said in an email. 

She did not answer a question about how much Wheeler will be paid. 

Reducing regulatory requirements

Reducing state regulations has been a significant talking point for Youngkin, who previously was co-CEO of Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.

Youngkin’s first executive directive upon taking office, issued on inauguration day, announced his intention to “reduce the regulatory burden on businesses and citizens across our commonwealth.” 

“Excessive regulation imposes a significant burden on Virginia’s economy. … The growing regulatory burden on businesses and individuals requires time, money and energy for compliance,” he wrote. “This represents opportunity loss that inhibits job creation and economic growth.” 

The directive went on to order all executive branch agencies to “reduce by at least 25 percent the number of regulations not mandated by federal or state statute.” 

The executive order issued Thursday clarifies that the 25 percent target applies to “regulatory requirements” rather than “regulations” but is similarly focused on discretionary regulations.   

“A number of regulatory requirements are required by federal and state law, obviously those will not be reduced,” wrote Porter in an email. 

Agencies will also be required to post where regulations are in the review process and any impact and cost-benefit analyses on Virginia’s Regulatory Townhall page. (The initial version of the executive order released Thursday erroneously directed that postings be made to townhall.org, a website run by Trump, rather than townhall.virginia.gov and was later corrected.) 

Porter said the new order is intended to build off a pilot program started during Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration. Youngkin’s earlier directive specifically mentions the three-year regulatory reduction pilot program initiated by House Bill 883 in 2018, which aimed to reduce regulatory requirements at two agencies by 25 percent through amending, eliminating or streamlining existing regulations. 

A 2021 report to the General Assembly by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget found that the Department of Occupational Regulation was able to reduce discretionary regulations by almost 27 percent under the pilot, but the Department of Criminal Justice Services fell short of the target at just over 14 percent. 

The report found that while the pilot had been “beneficial,” the specific approach it took to reductions “would not work across all agencies.” 

“To a degree, a large and diverse agency such as DPOR may be able to find opportunities for streamlining that are not available to other agencies,” it said. “DCJS, on the other hand, may conclude that decisions about the number of public safety regulations should not be made by a numeric formula, but instead be driven by responding to the changing needs of the regulated community and the citizens they serve.” 

Porter said the 25 percent reduction being sought by the Office of Regulatory Management would be a “government-wide effort” and would not target particular agencies. 

“Our first effort is to establish the baseline of how many requirements are currently in the regulations,” she said. “We will then ask each agency to examine the requirements to determine what can be reduced or eliminated.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]

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