Two well-respected and nonpartisan organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen, have detailed many of Mr. Wehrums actions at the EPA. He pushed for a change that allows power plants to continue to produce dangerous mercury emissions for 20 years longer than the Clean Air Act permits. Last year, the EPA rescinded its policy that mercury emissions should be regulated as dangerous air pollutants. This allows power plants to forgo reducing mercury emissions until 2018. And it forced the EPA to abandon the regulation of other hazardous air pollutants from power plants.
The EPAs inspector general, in a report on the policy change promoted by Mr. Wehrum, concluded that it had been compromised. The report determined that senior EPA officials told staff members what result they wanted and ordered them to work backwards to achieve the standards for different kinds of power plants that would produce this pre-determined outcome. The EPA also abandoned a policy requiring an analysis of protective mercury control procedures requested by the Federal Advisory Committee, which was formed by the EPA to provide expert advice on mercury.
When EPA staff members questioned why the analysis wouldnt be conducted, Mr. Wehrum replied that the analysis was being postponed indefinitely. In fact, it was never conducted. It was later discovered that portions of the new policy on mercury emissions were taken verbatim from a document that Mr. Wehrums former employer, the law firm Latham & Watkins, had drafted for utility companies.
But according to an EPA consultant, coal-fired power plants are responsible for massive amounts of air pollutants that are to blame for 9,000 premature deaths per year. A subsequent Congressional report determined that the relaxed NSR protections were based on utility industry anecdotes and unverified assumptions about the consequences of pollution. And the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling on the relaxed NSR protections, criticized the EPA for failing to demonstrate that the weakened protections dont result in increased emissions that harm public health.
Its not surprising that President Bush nominated Mr. Wehrum to oversee the EPAs air pollution office. In the 2000 presidential campaign, nine utility companies gave more than $2 million to the Bush campaign; all nine were facing disciplinary actions from the EPA over air pollution. And in 2001, Vice President Cheneys secretive energy task force, which made policy recommendations to the EPA, met with three utility companies facing air pollution lawsuits, and with lobbyists of all nine of the companies fighting EPA disciplinary actions.
It would also allow industrial plants to evade monitoring, reporting, and other EPA compliance requirements concerning toxic substances. The plan is so radical that officials at nine of the ten regional EPA offices submitted a letter of protest, noting that the plan would be detrimental to the environment and undermine the intent of the Clean Air Act. The officials also complained that Mr. Wehrum proposed the plan without the advice of EPA regional offices, and noted that there was a disturbing trend of excluding regional offices from policy development.
The Senate should move quickly to reject the nomination of William Wehrum. His history at the EPA makes him entirely unacceptable to lead the air pollution office. By rejecting his nomination, the Senate will send a clear signal that clean air trumps the interests of utility companies. And it will remind President Bush that the P in EPA stands for protection.