EPA chief Scott Pruitt may garner a lot of headlines as he attempts to dismantle the agency from within. But his underlings are doing a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes, and many are cut from the same cloth as the man at the top.
That includes William Wehrum, the assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), and arguably the second most powerful person at the EPA outside of Pruitt. OAR is high-profile office inside the agency that regulates everything from mercury to carbon emissions. The office has helped enforce rules to combat acid rain and the ozone hole and keep air pollution from killing Americans. If you live in the U.S., you’ve almost certainly benefited many times over from the Office of Air and Radiation.
But because we live in the upside-down now, Scott Pruitt made sure to install someone to run the office who has made a career of trying to ruin said office. Like Pruitt, Wehrum loved to sue the EPA in his previous position as a corporate lawyer. He filed 31 suits against the agency mostly in the service of the fossil fuel and other industries he’s now supposed to regulate.
Prior to his career suing the EPA, Wehrum worked for it. He served as acting assistant administrator for OAR under the George W. Bush administration. His full appointment to the position was blocked by Congressional Democrats at the time, but he still managed to help undermine clean air rules and weaken mercury standards. He also tried to lighten the load on major polluters by wiping out a rule known as “once in, always in.” (He failed during the Bush years, but has now succeeded in starting the process of undoing it under Trump.)
It should also be no surprise that Wehrum is a climate denier. Despite being in charge of the office tasked with regulating carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act, he false stated to Senator Jeff Merkeley (D-OR.) during his confirmation hearing that it’s “an open question” whether humans are the main driver of climate change.
Merkeley also showed Wehrum a chart of greenhouse gas emissions that neatly tracks the rise in the global average temperature. Wehrum’s response?
“I’m not familiar with those data, I have no idea what it depicts.”
Reminder: this is the guy tasked with regulating carbon emissions (which he has to due to a Supreme Court decision even if he doesn’t want to). He’s either lying or a moron, but neither is good news if you like clean air and a stable climate.