Energy & Environment

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 Carper (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 Cardin (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 Pruitt in the Trump administration’s deregulatory push.

“Under the Obama administration, the air office was also one of the biggest regulatory abusers,” Sen. John Barrasso (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 McConnell (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 Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to oppose Wehrum’s nomination, and no Democrats voted to confirm him. 

—Updated at 1:06 p.m.

Tags Ben Cardin John Barrasso Mitch McConnell Scott Pruitt Susan Collins Tom Carper
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