EPA's air pollution chief to step down amid ethics probe
The former utility lobbyist who has led many of President Donald Trump’s major deregulatory efforts is stepping down from the Environmental Protection Agency, a move that comes after POLITICO's reporting on his connections to the industry.
House Democrats began an investigation in April into EPA air pollution chief Bill Wehrum’s ties to his old law firm, Hunton Andrews Kurth, and especially the Utility Air Regulatory Group, an influential collection of coal-heavy utilities that lobbied against climate regulations. As POLITICO reported in February, 25 power companies and six industry trade groups agreed to pay the firm a total of $8.2 million in 2017, the same year President Donald Trump tapped Wehrum to join the EPA.
Subsequent scrutiny from House Democrats led to UARG’s decision in May to dissolve.
One person in the energy industry said Wednesday that Wehrum has "accomplished a majority of his goals" but simply had enough of the flak.
“The rigmarole is just not fun for him; constantly being personally attacked in a very unfair way," said the person, who requested anonymity to protect relations with the agency.
"Bill Wehrum is not Scott Pruitt,” the industry ally added, referring to the former EPA administrator who hung onto his job during months of endless scandals.
Environmentalists quickly cheered Wehrum’s departure.
“Wehrum did more damage to the Clean Air Act than any other person in the last 40 years,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “His legacy will be more premature deaths, more hospital visits and more asthma attacks to our most vulnerable citizens.”
Since arriving at EPA in November 2017, Wehrum has proven to be a prolific, nimble deregulator. He oversaw the agency's major rollbacks of environmental and climate rules, including last week's rollout of a blockbuster regulation on coal power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions that is significantly more restrained than what the Obama administration had enacted.
"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," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement.
But Wehrum’s departure has thrown the timeline for many of those complicated, high-profile rulemakings in doubt, including a forthcoming package rolling back auto pollution standards and separate rules on other types of pollution from power plants, oil and gas producers and other industries.
Anne Idsal, Wehrum’s principal deputy, will take over the air office in an acting capacity. She previously was the regional administrator for EPA’s south central region, including Texas and surrounding states.
By ALEX GUILLÉN