(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."
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.
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