Bill Wehrum, an Architect of Trump Administration’s Pro-Coal Rules, to Leave E.P.

Source: By Lisa Friedman, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2019

WASHINGTON — William L. Wehrum, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s air office who helped to write some of the Trump administration’s most significant rules weakening climate change protections and supporting the coal industry, will resign on Sunday, the agency announced Wednesday.

Mr. Wehrum also served as assistant administrator of the E.P.A. Office of Air and Radiation in the George W. Bush administration. Before returning to the agency under President Trump in November 2017, he worked as a lawyer representing the oil, gas and coal industries.

Watchdog groups have accused Mr. Wehrum of violating an ethics pledgeby meeting with former clients from his time as a lawyer and lobbyist. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also has opened an inquiry into whether Mr. Wehrum inappropriately aided his former clients while at E.P.A.

“Wehrum might not have been the biggest name to leave the Trump administration, but he’s one of the people with the biggest ethics conflicts,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has requested an investigation into Mr. Wehrum’s conduct by the E.P.A. inspector general.

Mr. Libowitz said the inspector general had not taken up an inquiry and that he believed an investigation was not likely after Mr. Wehrum’s departure from the agency.

Representative Frank Pallone Jr., the New Jersey Democrat who leads the House energy committee, said his inquiry into Mr. Wehrum’s ethics conduct “should, and will, continue.”

Mandy Gunasekara, who served as the principal deputy assistant administrator in the air office under Mr. Wehrum, said her former boss was a victim of partisan politics.

“The Dems approach to an issue isn’t attacking the policy, it’s also attacking the person,” she said. Ms. Gunasekara said Mr. Wehrum had always planned on leaving after some significant regulatory rollbacks were completed. “He’s leaving on a high note,” she said.

Last week the E.P.A. moved to replace an Obama-era regulation that aimed to shutter coal-fired power plantswith one that could help new coal plants open. Mr. Wehrum was the main architect of that measure, which the Trump administration calls the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

He also was a key part of efforts to roll back fuel economy standards that the Obama administration had imposed. Last week Mr. Wehrum defended that plan, and asserted that more stringent national standards would increase the price of new vehicles and lead people to stay in older and less-safe ones, causing the number of road fatalities to increase. That claim has been widely dismissed by experts. The final rule is expected out later this summer.

In a statement, Andrew Wheeler, the E.P.A. administrator, praised Mr. Wehrum’s service and said the departure had been planned.

“While I have known of Bill’s desire to leave at the end of this month for quite sometime, the date has still come too soon,” Mr. Wheeler said in the statement. “I applaud Bill and his team for finalizing the Affordable Clean Energy regulation last week and for the tremendous progress he has made in so many other regulatory initiatives.”

Anne Idsal, who is currently the principal deputy assistant administrator of the air office, will assume the air chief role in an acting capacity, the E.P.A. said.