Senate confirms top air regulator at EPA

Senate confirms top air regulator at EPA
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The Senate on Thursday confirmed William Wehrum to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation, making him one of the most powerful officials in the agency.

Wehrum became only the second of President Trump’s EPA nominees to secure Senate confirmation. Senators approved his nomination on a 49-47 vote.

Democrats and environmentalists lined up against Wehrum’s nomination, noting both his legal career and a controversial tenure at the EPA under President George W. Bush.

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Wehrum was the acting director of the Air and Radiation Office during the Bush administration. But Senate Democrats blocked his nomination to hold the position full-time, questioning his ability to write strong environmental rules.

During his confirmation process earlier this year, Democrats noted the 27 times federal courts had overturned regulations Wehrum worked on while at the agency.

“Mr. Wehrum is essentially applying for the job he already had at EPA, and you would think that would be easy, but Mr. Wehrum's resume shows that a great deal of the work he did in his last job as Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation was not up to par,” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperLobbying World Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder MORE (D-Del.) said.

“In this job, subpar work impacts millions of Americans, especially children and the most vulnerable among us.”

Wehrum’s post-government career has also kicked up opposition. As a lawyer, he has worked for firms that represent fossil fuel groups he will soon be regulating, including the American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council and the National Association of Manufacturers.

“While he worked at the EPA during the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Wehrum attempted to direct the agency's air requirements to favor markets, earning praise from industry groups he would later represent in private practice,” Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinThe Secure Act makes critical reforms to our retirement system — let's pass it this year Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Senate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters MORE (D-Md.) said. “How can we ask Mr. Wehrum to objectively administer the Clean Air Act after a career spent on one side?”

Republicans, however, have hailed Wehrum as a strong lieutenant for EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses EPA didn't conduct required analyses of truck engine rule: internal watchdog Is Big Oil feeling the heat? MORE in the Trump administration’s deregulatory push.

“Under the Obama administration, the air office was also one of the biggest regulatory abusers,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump announces restart to Taliban peace talks in surprise Afghanistan visit Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Wyo.) said on Wednesday. “Now Mr. Wehrum is going to play a key role in undoing this red tape. The American people need a qualified leader in the EPA Air office. Bill Wehrum is the right man for the job.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE (R-Ky.), meantime, said Wehrum “will put his experience to good use for our nation.”

“Nominees like Mr. Wehrum will continue to work with this EPA to undo the damage of the Obama administration’s overreach in a reasonable manner,” he said.

In a statement, Pruitt said, "Bill Wehrum has a long history of public service, including over 30 years working in the environmental field. I look forward to him joining EPA to help us implement our positive environmental agenda and administer programs that ensure that Americans have access to clean air."

The Office of Air and Radiation has a large regulatory portfolio covering air pollution, climate change, auto emissions and other issues. Several of the Obama administration’s key — and most controversial — environmental rules came out of that office, including restrictions on methane, ozone and carbon dioxide and the Clean Power Plan climate rule for power plants.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGiffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities MORE (R-Maine) was the only Republican to oppose Wehrum's nomination, and no Democrats voted to confirm him. 

—Updated at 1:06 p.m.