Special Topics in Environmental Management

New OAR Nominee Comes with Strong Industry Ties

President Trump announced that he intends to nominate William Wehrum, a Washington D.C. environmental attorney with a lengthy list of industry clients, to be EPA’s next assistant administrator (AA) for the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR). Wehrum is currently a partner in the powerhouse law firm Hunton & Williams where he leads the Administrative Law Group, which contains the firm’s environmental practice group. Given the large number and broad impact of air regulations, the OAR AA is typically considered the most influential of all the heads of EPA’s program offices.

This is the second time Wehrum has been nominated to lead the OAR. In 2006, President George W. Bush sought to have Wehrum installed to lead the office. The nomination was initially approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee when Republicans held a majority. However, the following year, Senate leadership switched to the Democrats, and Wehrum’s nomination was put on hold by Chair Barbara Boxer (CA). The administration eventually withdrew the nomination.

Even without receiving Senate approval, Wehrum served for 2 years as OAR’s Acting AA before leaving the Agency for the private sector. Before Wehrum’s Acting AA assignment, he served as OAR’s general counsel. Before becoming a lawyer, Wehrum worked as an environmental engineer and an environmental supervisor for a chemical manufacturing company.

Views Align with Pruitt’s

Wehrum’s views on the Clean Air Act (CAA) and EPA’s role are virtual mirror images of those expressed by Administrator Scott Pruitt. For example, like Pruitt, Wehrum believes that the Agency has been interfering with and diminishing the proper role of the states in environmental protection. In addition, Wehrum has found little if any authority in the CAA that would authorize the Agency to regulate greenhouse gases. The Act’s provision allowing the Agency to reset the national ambient air quality standards every 5 years is also problematic for Wehrum; Republicans have introduced legislation that would change the 5-year review interval to 10 years.

While with the OAR as both general counsel and AA, Wehrum was instrumental in designing several major initiatives, including Bush’s Clear Skies legislation, which set reduction targets for sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NOx), and mercury (Hg), and a rule that regulated formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. Democrats and environmental groups said requirements in both these actions were too industry-friendly.

At Hunton & Williams, Wehrum has represented trade associations litigating against environmental and other federal rules affecting particulate matter pollution, oil and gas production, petroleum refineries, gas processing, interstate oil and gas transportation, utility and industrial boilers, combustion turbines, stationary engines, chemical manufacturing, and minerals processing.

‘Student of Clean Air Act’

EPA’s announcement of Wehrum’s nomination included an endorsement by Sean Alteri, director of the Kentucky Division for Air Quality and current president of the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies (AAPCA).

“Considering his education and experience as a chemical engineer and an environmental attorney, Mr. Wehrum will be well-positioned to provide clear, concise direction to address the many diverse, complex air quality issues,” said Alteri. “As a student of the Clean Air Act, Mr. Wehrum’s knowledge and experience will greatly benefit EPA, state, and local air pollution control agencies.”

AAPCA membership is dominated by heavily Republican states.

The Bush administration’s withdrawal of Wehrum’s name to be OAR’s AA in 2007 was welcomed by EPW-chair Boxer.

“Since Mr. Wehrum has been in a top position at the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, he has worked to serve polluters instead of protecting our families,” said Boxer. “Under his watch, EPA took language for a proposed mercury rule directly from industry lawyers; he supported policies that take the objective scientific review out of the process of setting air quality standards; and he worked to weaken air toxics policies on benzene and other cancer causing chemicals.”