Tue, Apr. 18, 2006
William Wehrum and the EPA Editorial More foe than friend of clean air
The nation's top clean air cop should be an enforcer, not an industry apologist. He should write tough rules, not craft loopholes to end-run one of the nation's most successful public-health protections.
The Senate should reject President Bush's nomination of former industry attorney William Wehrum to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air programs. As chief counselor and interim assistant administrator since 2001, he's done enough damage already.
Wehrum has suppressed scientific analysis, diluted public-health standards, and reinterpreted law to favor industry. He still advocates for special interests, not the public interest.
Wehrum joined EPA as chief counsel to former assistant administrator Jeffrey Holmstead. Both men had worked for the law firm Latham & Watkins, whose clients include utilities the EPA regulates.
During Holmstead's term, verbatim language from Latham & Watkins memos favoring industry appeared in a proposed EPA rule. Firm attorneys also advised Wehrum and Holmstead on controversial changes in plywood and industrial boiler rules, which the EPA general counsel said violated the Clean Air Act. Lawsuits are pending.
In 2003, as chief architect of a mercury emissions rule, Wehrum canceled the usual scientific and economic analysis of competing ideas in favor of the administration's proposed legislation, spurring protests from EPA staff and Congress.
The General Accounting Office, the EPA Inspector General and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals all have rejected Wehrum's five-year campaign to rewrite "new source review" rules governing upgrades of old power plants. Last month, federal judges disparaged the Bush administration approach as making sense "only in a Humpty-Dumpty world."
Earlier this month, seven of 10 regional EPA offices angrily objected to Wehrum's plan to allow refineries, steel mills, chemical plants and smelters to emit more toxic pollutants such as arsenic and lead. They resented being cut out of a process that could prove "detrimental to the environment."
Wehrum's pattern of neglect disqualifies him for this office.
Wehrum told the Senate earlier this month that he bases his approach on trying to "accelerate the pace of environmental progress while maintaining our nation's economic competitiveness."
The way to do that is to enforce, not dismantle, the Clean Air Act.
The Bush administration continues to put environment at odds with economics, but its own Office of Management and Budget concluded in 2003 that the health and social benefits of tough regulations are worth the costs to industry and consumers. No return has been as great as the Clean Air Act - providing up to $119 billion in reduced emergency-room visits, hospitalizations, and lost workdays annually, compared to less than $9 billion spent on compliance.
A law that valuable needs a devoted champion at EPA, not an industry shill.