Incoming GOP Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has just announced his choice for Secretary of Natural Resources, Andrew Wheeler, a longtime coal lobbyist, who served as Trump’s EPA director in the latter part of his term. He has an utterly abysmal environmental record, so bad I cannot think of a single thing he did that I can applaud or even just vaguely approve of. It was just simply all bad.
He combined blocking new rules such as limiting mercury emissions into water and many others, with shutting down the Scientific Advisory Board, to simply ceasing to enforce existing legislation, most notably the Clean Water Act. This appointment follows Youngkin having already declared his intention to remove Virginia from the 11 state regional cap and trade system in the Northeast for GHGs. He may be blocked from doing that, and Wheeler may face a problem getting approved by the VA Senate. But Youngkin will take office a week from now, and his views on the environment are now clear.
Many Republicans look to him as a model for how to win in the future: throw enough carefully selected red meat to the Trumpian base, while also carefully nodding to more moderate policies aimed at appealing to independent suburban women, the apparent key swing voters. So it is curious to see what this politician, who might well end up in the future on a national GOP ticket, chooses to throw to whom.
Two areas where he threw meat to the base were on abortion and guns, areas where the last two years of Dem domination of both the executive and legislature in VA led to modest liberalizing changes. The base wants those rolled back to what was there before. However, since his election, it has become clear that Youngkin is not going to do anything, or not much anyway, on either of these hot button items, which might upset some of those centrist suburban women. Not only that but he would almost certainly find any effort to change any laws regarding these issues being blocked in the still Dem-controlled Senate.
But on the environment, he is clearly taking the hard line. It is not immediately obvious why. This is an issue that could potentially upset those nice centrist suburban women. And while the Trumpist base tends to think the climate change issue is yet another hoax, it is not one of those red meat issues that gets them chanting wildly at Trump rallies.
In fact I think Youngkin is showing his deeper identity as an old country club Republican. He is a billionaire and used to run the Carlyle Group. Heck, George H.W. Bush used to work for/with that outfit a long time ago, although I do not think Youngkin has or ever had any connection with the Bushes. But this is the gang, and these are big money interests he comes from. Certain parts of those big money interests, especially those involved in the energy scctor, especially the fossil fuel part of it. Thus we see this old anti-environmentalist former coal lobbyist being appointed.
I shall close by noting one other development today, one area where he does seem to be throwing red meat to the worst of the Trump base in a way that really will hurt the citizens of the state. He is joining the suit to block the vaccine mandate of Biden on businesses, now at the SCOTUS. And the outgoing governor, Douglas Northam, has been the only stae governor who is an MD. He will be missed on these policies.