Air chief nominee ‘not fit for the job’ — enviros

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It’s been a decade since Bill Wehrum was last in the running to head U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The passage of time has done nothing, however, to soften the feelings of environmental groups that are again urging senators to scuttle his nomination.

“Mr. Wehrum has dedicated his career to rolling back EPA health and clean air protections for Americans, both while at EPA and in service of industry clients,” the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters said in a joint nine-page letter to lawmakers released late yesterday.

While Wehrum is “a knowledgeable air pollution attorney,” they wrote, “he is not fit for the job as the nation’s chief air quality official.”

The letter came a day before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had been set to hold a confirmation hearing on the nominations of Wehrum and President Trump’s choices for three other top EPA posts. The hearing was postponed after the Senate cut short its work week.

Trump named Wehrum earlier this month to head EPA’s air office. Now in private practice, the Memphis, Tenn., native spent six years in the office from 2001 to 2007, serving first as counsel and then as acting chief during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Although Bush twice nominated Wehrum to get the chief’s job on a Senate-confirmed basis, he was unable to overcome a blockade by Senate Democrats at the time. Environmental organizations fought his previous candidacy as well (E&E News PM, April 19, 2006).

During his tenure at EPA, courts found that the agency violated the Clean Air Act “repeatedly and egregiously,” the NRDC and the other three groups said in yesterday’s letter. Wehrum also played “a key role” in defending the Bush administration’s refusal to address carbon pollution, they said, adding that he has continued to work at weakening air quality standards as a corporate attorney.

In Wehrum’s defense in this round, the administration has touted his 31 years of work as an engineer, lawyer and federal official in the environmental field and highlighted the support of people like John Cruden, a now-retired career Justice Department attorney who headed DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in the final years of the Obama administration.

Whatever the intensity of opposition to his nomination, Wehrum is far more likely to win Senate approval this time. The reason lies in a 2013 rules change orchestrated by Democrats that allows most presidential nominees to win confirmation with a simple majority vote instead of a supermajority of senators. Republicans currently hold 52 seats, meaning that Wehrum’s confirmation is virtually assured if they stick together.