Another Top EPA Official Is Out Amid Ethics Scandal

Bill Wehrum, ya boy.
Bill Wehrum, ya boy.
Image: Courtesy of U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

The mastermind behind the Trump administration’s pro-coal alternative to Obama’s Clean Power Plan is out, reportedly another victim of an ethics scandal.

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that William Wehrum, the mercury-loving weirdo who ran the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, is stepping down by the end of this month. Honestly, good riddance.

Wehrum joined the EPA in November 2017 just two votes shy of Senate rejection. Since then, it’s been a wild ride for the former assistant administrator. Last week, he finalized the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule, President Donald Trump’s replacement to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. In the replacement rule, Wehrum managed to eliminate all targets for reduced carbon emissions, kill all hopes of an immediate energy transition, and help ensure poor air quality for people living near coal-fired power plants remains the status-quo.

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Nice going, Bill. He’s also managed to land himself in an ethics scandal regarding his former gig defending giant utilities and energy companies, which brings us to his upcoming departure. In May, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint against Wehrum for meeting with former clients. According to Bloomberg, a congressional probe into how his former law firm, Hunton & Williams, handled a case representing the Utility Air Regulatory Group is why he’s leaving the agency.

The Utility Air Regulatory Group, a now-disbanded group, loved to sue the EPA, especially when it comes to the Clean Air Act, according to the Energy and Policy Institute. Wehrum, too, was fond of suing the EPA before he decided to join the agency. Maybe he’ll return to his roots following his transition out of the agency.

Until the EPA finds a replacement, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Anne Idsal will play the role previously held by Wehrum. Under this administration, whoever replaces him is unlikely to be much better.

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“Wehrum was an enthusiastic executioner of the Trump EPA’s anti-public health anti-environmental agenda,” said Joe Goffman, who worked on the Clean Power Plan when he worked at the EPA, in a statement emailed to Earther. “To the great harm of the public and the environment, that agenda will roll on regardless of who replaces him.”

Earther reached out to the EPA for comment, and we’ll update if we hear back.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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Wehrum’s job as yet another MAGA EPA hatchet man is done. One revolution of the revolving door complete.

It’ll be easier to continue chopping up EPA without him. Just like Andrew Wheeler breezily moved forward with gutting of EPA after Scott Pruitt went on to greener (or blacker) pastures.

The big problem environmental protection via the administrative state (i.e. US EPA) is there’s just too many fancy pants policy wonks wanting to do policy, but don’t want to work for administrative state money. And who wants to work in policy if your policy never sees the light of day?

Being a wonk for law firms, nonprofits, think tanks, interest groups, etc is simply far better paying. However, one has to put in a year of two inside the administrative state to show bona fides, if that’s of interest to clients. Some clients don’t care about CVs, just good old kneecap-ability.

And who knows, maybe Mr. Wehrum might get a change of heart and go work for NRDC, if the money’s good. Or he could go back to Indiana and try to get the shuttered coal gasification plant going again. Or make LNG exports boom (figuratively).