Bill Wehrum, an Architect of E.P.A. Rollbacks, Faces New Ethics Inquiry

Source: By Lisa Friedman, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2019

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general will investigate allegations that William L. Wehrum, the agency’s former air quality chief, violated ethics rules when he met with former clients from his days as a lawyer and lobbyist for the oil, gas and coal industries.

The inquiry will look into whether Mr. Wehrum’s efforts at the E.P.A. to weaken climate change and air pollution standards improperly benefited those former clients, a congressional aide said.

Mr. Wehrum resigned last month after helping to finalize a regulation that would relax restrictions the Obama administration had sought to impose on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. As the agency’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, he was the legal expert behind other rollbacks of key climate change and air pollution regulations, including weakening Obama-era regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from automobile tailpipes and methane from oil and gas wells.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has already has opened an inquiry into whether Mr. Wehrum and David Harlow — a senior counsel at the E.P.A. who worked with Mr. Wehrum at his former law firm, Hunton & Williams — improperly worked to reverse an enforcement action that would have aided a former client, DTE Energy. The law firm is now known as Hunton Andrews Kurth.

Mr. Wehrum could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for the E.P.A. did not respond to a request for comment but in the past has said that both Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Harlow had consistently recused themselves from all “particular matters” where DTE had been a party.

The new investigation was first reported by The Washington Post.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, on Sunday sent an investigative report to the E.P.A. Inspector General that outlined new allegations about both Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Harlow. Those included accusations that Mr. Wehrum’s recusal statements did not disclose some meetings with former clients.