Andrew Wheeler during his confirmation hearing to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency before the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on November 8th, 2017. Alex Edelman/CNP/AP
Alex Edelman/CNP/DPA/AP
Andrew Wheeler during his confirmation hearing to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency before the United States Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on November 8th, 2017. Alex Edelman/CNP/AP
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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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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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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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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) —  

President Donald Trump announced Friday he plans to nominate the acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, to permanently lead the agency.

Trump announced the move during a Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, where he introduced Wheeler along with other top administration officials in attendance.

“Acting administrator – who, I will tell you, is going to be made permanent,” Trump said. “He’s done a fantastic job. And I want to congratulate him. EPA, Andrew Wheeler.”

Wheeler took over the agency after Trump’s first EPA administrator, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, resigned in July under a cloud of scandal.

While Pruitt’s approach to the job and ethical controversies drew attention – including more than a dozen probes – Wheeler has largely operated under the radar.

A confirmation vote – required for Wheeler to ascend to the full administrator role – means a potentially contentious hearing where Democrats can be expected to grill him on the administration’s approach to regulating chemicals, emissions and water quality.

“Mr. Wheeler must come before our committee so that members can look at his record as acting administrator objectively to see if any improvements have been made at the agency since he took the helm,” Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the committee overseeing EPA.

Wheeler began his career at the EPA during the Bush administration in the Pollution Prevention and Toxics office.

He then worked on energy and environmental issues on Capitol Hill and as an energy lobbyist whose clients included the coal company Murray Energy.

In a speech to employees after Pruitt’s resignation, Wheeler said he is proud of his work as a lobbyist, including his work on miner health and pension benefits.

“I think it has been used by some people in a derogatory manner, but I’m actually proud of the work I did,” he said.

Environmental groups, however, criticized the announcement.

“Putting a coal lobbyist like Andrew Wheeler in charge of the EPA is like giving a thief the keys to a bank vault,” said Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. “As Acting EPA Administrator, Wheeler has kept his door open to coal, gas, oil and toxic chemical corporations, prioritizing their profits over the health and safety of our families.”

An EPA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the announcement.