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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies about the fiscal year 2018 budget during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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EAST CHICAGO, IN - APRIL 19:  U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt makes a statement to the media after meeting residents from and taking a brief tour of the West Calumet Housing Complex on April 19, 2017 in East Chicago, Indiana.  Nearly all the residents of the complex were ordered to move by the East Chicago Housing Authority after the soil and many homes in the complex were found to contain high levels of lead. The area has been declared an EPA superfund site. This was Pruitt's first visit to a superfund site since being named the agency's administrator. The complex is scheduled for demolition.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
EAST CHICAGO, IN - APRIL 19: U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt makes a statement to the media after meeting residents from and taking a brief tour of the West Calumet Housing Complex on April 19, 2017 in East Chicago, Indiana. Nearly all the residents of the complex were ordered to move by the East Chicago Housing Authority after the soil and many homes in the complex were found to contain high levels of lead. The area has been declared an EPA superfund site. This was Pruitt's first visit to a superfund site since being named the agency's administrator. The complex is scheduled for demolition. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt is expected to face tough questioning about his stance on climate change and ties to the oil and gas industry.   (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt is expected to face tough questioning about his stance on climate change and ties to the oil and gas industry. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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EAST CHICAGO, IN - APRIL 19:  U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt makes a statement to the media after meeting residents from and taking a brief tour of the West Calumet Housing Complex on April 19, 2017 in East Chicago, Indiana.  Nearly all the residents of the complex were ordered to move by the East Chicago Housing Authority after the soil and many homes in the complex were found to contain high levels of lead. The area has been declared an EPA superfund site. This was Pruitt's first visit to a superfund site since being named the agency's administrator. The complex is scheduled for demolition.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
EAST CHICAGO, IN - APRIL 19: U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt makes a statement to the media after meeting residents from and taking a brief tour of the West Calumet Housing Complex on April 19, 2017 in East Chicago, Indiana. Nearly all the residents of the complex were ordered to move by the East Chicago Housing Authority after the soil and many homes in the complex were found to contain high levels of lead. The area has been declared an EPA superfund site. This was Pruitt's first visit to a superfund site since being named the agency's administrator. The complex is scheduled for demolition. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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In this May 16, 2018, photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt appears before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pruitt claimed credit for pollution cleanups done mostly by the Obama administration while flubbing facts about his 2017 condo deal and blaming underlings for his ethical woes. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik/AP
In this May 16, 2018, photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt appears before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pruitt claimed credit for pollution cleanups done mostly by the Obama administration while flubbing facts about his 2017 condo deal and blaming underlings for his ethical woes. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, May 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Subcommittee is hearing testimony on the proposed budget estimates for FY2019 for the Environmental Protection Agency. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies about the fiscal year 2018 budget during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies about the fiscal year 2018 budget during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on December 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Appropriations Committee during a hearing on the 2019 Fiscal Year EPA budget at the Capitol on April 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Alex Edelman/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt is expected to face tough questioning about his stance on climate change and ties to the oil and gas industry.   (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt is expected to face tough questioning about his stance on climate change and ties to the oil and gas industry. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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 Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Environment Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Environment Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17:  Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leaves after he spoke at an event November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt addressed The Federalist Society's 2017 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leaves after he spoke at an event November 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt addressed The Federalist Society's 2017 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Republicans wants answers from EPA chief
(CNN) —  

The Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler to be the No. 2 official at the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday amid ethics concerns plaguing EPA chief Scott Pruitt and calls from Democrats for him to resign. The vote was 53-45.

If Pruitt left, it would fall to Wheeler to run the agency until a new administrator is confirmed.

His firm’s clients include Murray Energy, which bills itself as “the largest coal mining company in America.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, previously blasted Wheeler as “a former industry lobbyist who has worked on behalf of big polluters and climate change deniers. He has spent years working to undermine or lobby against the environmental protections he may soon oversee.”

Pruitt praised Wheeler’s confirmation in a statement Thursday.

“Andrew Wheeler has spent his entire career advancing sound environmental policies and I look forward to him bringing his expertise and leadership to the agency,” he said. “I look forward working with Andrew to implement President Trump’s environmental agenda.”

And on the Senate floor earlier Thursday, McConnell said Wheeler’s qualifications for the job are “beyond question.”

“Mr. Wheeler’s former boss, our colleague Senator Inhofe, says, quote, ‘there is no one more qualified.’ Our former colleague Senator Lieberman has called Mr. Wheeler ‘fair and professional,’ and said ‘I hope his nomination will receive … fair consideration by the Senate,’” he said on the Senate floor. “He has won the support of the American Farm Bureau Federation and has won praise from both sides of the aisle.”

Prior to his lobbying work, Wheeler served on Capitol Hill as a Republican staff member for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and as a top aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and an outspoken climate change skeptic who told CNN last month the EPA is “brainwashing our kids.”

The president of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that works to protect the environment, slammed Wheeler’s appointment in a statement.

“Before the Trump administration, it would have been inconceivable that a coal and chemical industry lobbyist with a long history of hostility toward environmental policy would be the number two at the EPA,” Ken Cook said. “The EPA may need to add more office space to accommodate Mr. Wheeler. I’m not sure there’s enough room in its current digs to fit another shill from the coal and chemical industries.”

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall said Wednesday that Wheeler should be carefully vetted, as if he were taking over for Pruitt now. Udall told reporters that he believes Wheeler wouldn’t be a much better option to run the agency.

“The problem with the Wheeler nomination is if Trump (fires Pruitt) tomorrow, Wheeler is in fact the administrator, and that is a very, very serious problem,” Udall said. “I know that there are many Republicans who haven’t spoken out yet, but privately they are very disturbed by what Scott Pruitt is doing at the EPA.”

Wheeler’s nomination comes amid a steady stream of negative headlines involving Pruitt in recent weeks and months that has official Washington wondering whether the embattled agency chief can hold onto his job.

Most recently, Pruitt has been figh