William Wehrum

William L. Wehrum

Credentials

  • JD, Widener University School of Law, (1993). [1]
  • BS, Chemical Engineering, Purdue University (1986). [1]

Background

William (Bill) Wehrum is the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). [2]

Wehrum previously served as Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation during the George W. Bush Administration. He was nominated by President Bush in 2006 to fill a permanent position of Assistant Administrator, however that was blocked by Senate Democrats. At the time, Senator Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called Wehrum “extremely troubling” with a record that “demonstrates a pattern of discounting health impacts, ignoring scientific findings and substituting industry positions for the clear intent of Congress.” [3], [4]

The NRDC reported that the Bush-era EPA air program “lost an astonishing number of Clean Air Act cases during Wehrum’s tenure,” with environmental and public health groups winning court cases against the EPA 27 times in those 7 years. “All of these cases involved attempts by the Bush administration to weaken clean air and public health protections by skirting Clean Air Act requirements,” NRDC reported. [5]

According to the EPA website, the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) is responsible for administering the Clean Air Act, as well as “regulations for controlling air pollution and radiation exposure.” OAR is concerned with issues including acid rain, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change, among others. [6]

In 2018, the EPA proposed a new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to replace the Clean Power Plan. According to one critic who worked on the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, the proposed ACE rule “really boils down to two subsidies for the coal industry masquerading as a climate change and pollution rule,” and would “drive a loophole into one of the key authorities that the EPA and the states have long relied on to prevent pollution increases when changes are made at power plants that result in pollution increases.” [21], [22]

Bill Wehrum has worked as partner and head of the Administrative Law Group at Hunton & Williams LLP where he focused on air quality. Hunton & Williams LLP was known for arguing that the Clean Air Act does not give the EPA authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. [2], [7]

Wehrum & the Energy Industry

As noted in documents contributed by The New York Times, Bill Wehrum has a history of working as a lawyer for the coal industry. He has represented major industry groups such as Koch Industries, and his clients list includes some of the industry's largest trade associations including American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and the American Petroleum Institute[8]

Before working at Hunton & Williams LLP, and before his first stint at the EPA office, The Washington Post reported in 2004 Wehrum had worked alongside Jeffrey Holmstead at the law firm Latham & Watkins. That firm was among groups lobbying the administration in 2003 on mercury rules in the clean Air Act, representing clients like Cinergy Inc. among other utilities and energy companies. The Post noted that, comparing proposed rules and memos by Lathan & Watkins, “at least a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes verbatim, from the industry suggestions.” [20]

In 2012, Wehrum filed a brief on behalf of the Utility Air Regulating Group (UARG), a trade association for the coal industry. In the brief he challenged an EPA enforcement case against an electric utility in Michigan. As NYT noted, the EPA adopted arguments made in the brief shortly after Wehrum was confirmed. [8]

Wehrum is a regular speaker at the Energy, Utility & Environment Conference. In 2015, he made a presentation titled “UARG V. EPA: What Does It Mean for EPA's GHG Regulatory Program?” In 2017, Wehrum was also on the program to discuss “Is Federalism Still Alive under the Clean Air Act?” [9]

The NYT reported Wehrum continued to represent coal industry clients in federal court after Scott Pruitt was confirmed to head the EPA, filing petitions for UARG in 2017. According to emails obtained by NYT and by the Sierra Club, while representing UARG, Wehrum was simultaneously meeting with the EPA's air pollution office. [9]

One week before Wehrum was confirmed by the Senate, a 13-page memo was shared with the EPA air pollution office that detailed “regulatory changes that would be most beneficial to the refining and petrochemical sector.” The NYT reported the memo “almost reads like a playbook for the 10 months since Mr. Wehrum arrived at the E.P.A.” and noted at least three major changes requested by industry had become or were becoming policy due to efforts by Wehrum and his office. The document served as a basis for a presentation Wehrum gave on behalf of industry clients in late 2017, an email sent to the EPA said. [10]

“While pushing the various rollbacks, Mr. Wehrum has at times continued to interact with former clients, despite an ethics rule that prohibits former industry lawyers and lobbyists from meeting with former clients in private settings to discuss government-related matters for two years,” the NYT noted, citing an example where Wehrum gave a presentation to the UARG at the offices of his law firm less than a month after joining the EPA.  [10]

An EPA spokesman said the event didn't pose an ethics violation because “while it included some former clients,” others attending “were not former clients.” [10]

Before being nominated to his position at the EPA, Wehrum arranged meetings with Scott Pruitt while working on behalf of his industry clients to fight against EPA air pollution rules.  [10]

Following his confirmation, Wehrum returned to give a presentation at his former law firm, at the invitation of one of his former clients, to discuss EPA regulatory matters. [10]

Stance on Climate Change

October 4, 2017

During his confirmation hearing, Wehrum suggested it is “an open question” whether human activity is the major driver of climate change: [11]

Key Quotes

May 16, 2018

Testifying regarding the EPA's new source review program, Wehrum described it as “unnecessarily complicated and confusing.” [12]

Key Deeds

August 29, 2018

On his first broadcast interview since the Trump administration proposed a new Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to replace the Clean Power Plan, Wehrum said the new rule was not designed to defend the coal industry, but also claimed the Obama administration had “actively tried to put the coal industry out of business. [21], [22]

Announcer: [15:30] “The EPA's own analysis showed there would be more premature deaths from the impacts of pollution, and it seems like the amount of pollution that's taken out of the atmosphere under this proposed rule would be less than in the forecast for the Clean Power Plan and the Obama administration.

With all that in mind, how is this a good idea?”

Wehrum: “Well, I would respectfully disagree with the characterization. First of all, we're not giving anything away, and the problem people have when they're looking at the analysis is that they forget that this is one of many, many regulations that we implemented in the clean air act, so this regulation is directed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and that's exactly what it would do. 

You know, it's true that regulations like this would have a secondary effect of, you know, affecting emissions of other pollutants, but we have ample and abundant regulatory authority to deal with all the pollution that we're responsible for under the clean air act. And, in this case, the proposed ACE rule would be very effective in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and it would complement the broad suite of other very aggressive standards we have in place for other types of pollution.”

Announcer: “So which plan would take more pollution out of the atmosphere? The Trump administration's plan, or the Obama administration's plan?”

Wehrum: “Probably the ACE rule, without a doubt. The Trump administration plan. Because the Obama administration plan never got implemented. So it was promulgated as a regulation and then immediately stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court in an unprecedented move by the court. So it's not even a fair comparison […] in fact the Obama rule never even saw the light of day.:

Announcer: “But the forecast for the Obama rule was better than for yours.”  

Wehrum: “But again, it's a false comparison, because however good the idea might be, you know as some people see it, it never saw the light of day. The Supreme Court stopped it in its tracks. “

Announcer: “I think there's a fair amount of concern from some folks about the nature of the regulation and the people who are promulgating it. It's no secret that you have worked as an attorney for a number of energy companies in the past, and a regulation like this is something that has kind of been on their wish list for some time.

“I wonder how you view that, in terms of this argument that now the foxes are guarding the henhouse when it comes to our environment.”

Wehrum: “I completely disagree. I take my responsibilities incredibly, incredibly seriously here at U.S. EPA, and we have an important job. And our job is to protect human health and the environment, there is no doubt about it, and we do that as well as we can. But our job is to do that as smartly and as efficiently as we possibly can.

“So, we try to find that sweet spot where we accomplish what we need to under the clean air act. We protect human health and the environment, but we don't overdo it. And we do it smart, and we do it clean, and we do it efficient, and I think we can have it all.”

Announcer: “Why should the American people trust, frankly, that folks who have direct past ties to the industry are trustworthy with guarding the environment? I mean, these companies may not be as environmentally friendly as they are, even, if government did not compel them to be so. Why should we have faith in this being the right way to go about it?”

Wehrum: “Because I care very deeply, and my colleagues care very deeply. I don't have to be here. Nobody's paying me to be here except the people of the United States, so I, again, I take this responsibility very, very seriously.

“And you have to remember, we're regulating greenhouse gases here. You know, there are a lot of people out there that say we should walk away from this completely. They said we should reverse the endangerment finding, they said we should reverse this CPP and never come back, and that's not what we're doing. That's not the right thing. That's not what the law requires, and we're putting in place a very aggressive but a very sensible plan that makes real progress.

Announcer: “Before we let you go, I wonder what your thought is in terms of this rule. You know, if we don't put this rule into practice, if we go on some other path toward regulating coal besides this… I guess I'm asking you what the necessity is for this version of this rule. Do we really need this rule, or do we still need to figure out a better solution?”

Wehrum: “We need this rule. We have a responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Up until very recently, power plants were the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. So we're doing what we have to do, what we need to do, and what we want to do under the law. So it's the right thing to do. We think this is the right proposal, and we think it's going to make real progress here.”

Announcer: “And do we have a responsibility as Americans to save or help the coal industry? Coal is going on its way out. I mean, even energy companies are moving away from coal. Why help the coal industry? Why is coal worth saving?”

Wehrum: “Well, again, this is not an exercise in helping the coal industry. That's not what this is about. This is an exercise in being as smart as we possibly can and as effective as we possibly can in regulating. What we're not doing, which is what the Obama administration did, is put a thumb on the scale. They actively tried to put the coal industry out of business.”

Announcer: “What's wrong with that? I guess that's what I'm asking. […] I guess what I'm asking is what's wrong with letting coal go in favor of cleaner sources of energy?”

Wehrum: “Right. But there's a difference in letting the market decide and let people decide how they want to generate power versus using the federal government power to push people out of business. So we're not pushing anybody out of business, but we're not favoring anybody.

“We're letting the market decide, and when you look at the market as a whole, there's a big shift. I mean there's a fundamental change happening as we speak, as we're watching, in the power sector. What's happening is American ingenuity has allowed for the production of phenomenal amounts of good, clean, cheap natural gas, and the power industry is responding. And what you're seeing is a shift out of coal, a shift out of oil, a shift into gas, and a corresponding but lesser shift into renewables.

And the overall effect, you know, without the hand of government touching it is you're seeing a fundamental shift in the power sector. So, you know, that's what we believe. We believe that we should let the markets operate, and in this case the markets are operating in a way that achieves real efficiencies from an economic standpoint, makes for a lot of cheap power which is great for this country. But at the same time, it's achieving our environmental goals, and you know without the help and without the aid and without the heavy hand of the federal regulation.”

Appearing later in the show, Joseph Goffman—director of Harvard's environmental energy and law program and former EPA official—commented on the newly proposed rule and on Wehrum's interpretation.

“Mr. Wehrum claims that other authorities, not part of the ACE rule, can be counted on to address the pollution increases that might occur under the ACE rule,” Goffman noted.

“But one thing to know is that the ACE rule includes an additional proposal, and it's a proposal to drive a loophole into one of the key authorities that the EPA and the states have long relied on to prevent pollution increases when changes are made at power plants that result in pollution increases. 

“I think what people need to recognize is that Mr. Wehrum is hosting a 'Halloween in August' party. Because the rule really boils down to two subsidies for the coal industry masquerading as a climate change and pollution rule.” (Emphasis added).

August 21, 2018

The Trump Administration announced it would replace Obama's Clean Power Plan with looser regulations that would allow states to create their own rules for coal-fired power plants. The New York Times reported earlier that Wehrum helped deliver this, “one of the biggest victories yet for his industry clients,” while working in his role at the EPA. The regulatory rollbacks proposed by the trump administration would be in the interest of many members of the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG), which Wehrum had represented as recently as the prior year. [13], [10]

Discussing Wehrum's role at the EPA, Bruce Buckheit, an air pollution expert who worked for the Justice Department’s Environmental Enforcement Section and as director of the EPA's air enforcement office told the NYT: “They basically found the most aggressive and knowledgeable fox and said, ‘Here are the keys to the henhouse’.” [10]

October 4, 2017

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a full committee hearing on the nomination of Michael Dourson, Matthew Leopold, David Ross, and William Wehrum to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as Jeffery Baran to be a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. [14]

During the hearing, Wehrum faced questions regarding his history of suing the EPA, as well as heading the department during a time that many of the regulations he crafted during his time with the Bush administration were found to be illegal.  [14]

Senator Tom Carper: “Virtually every major clean air regulation that you helped to craft during the Bush Administration has been thrown out, I'm told, thrown out by federal courts. 

“Twenty-seven times the courts found that you failed to protect public health as directed by the law. All of the failed regulations you worked or created…created greater uncertainties for businesses and left the life of those most vulnerable at risk. 

“When you left the EPA in 2007, I'm sure you reflected on your time at the agency in different ways, but one of the ways… only one we're aware if is really captured in the following quote from you. […]

“You're quoted as saying 'I'm a much better lawyer now then when I first joined the agency. To really get to know how the agency works, how it ticks, I think that's very valuable. I've expanded my capabilities which will hopefully allow me to be effective in generating business and clients.'

“Since then you've represented industry 31 times in lawsuits, I'm aware of, against EPA, arguing for weaker air toxic, mercury, and climate protections. Will you just take a minute and tell us why the American people should believe that you will be impartial in making decisions when it comes to protecting public health over the interest of the industries you spend many years representing?”

Wehrum: “First of all, with regard to the cases you cited and also the quote that you provided, both of them are tip of the iceberg situations. With regard to the cases, you know, what is litigated in the DC circuit is a very small fraction of what gets done in the office of Air and Radiation, so, I think it's a misrepresentation of my experience at the EPA previously to say that somehow is an indicator that, you know, I'm not committed to faithfully implementing the law and committed to protecting human health and the environment, so, I think that's not representative.

Carper: “Just let me follow up if I could. Particularly concerned about your legal efforts against the Obama administration's mercury and air toxic rule for power plants. You argued in court that EPA has not proven that it is appropriate to regulate mercury and air toxic power plant emissions despite the fact that most utilities are meeting the rule's deadlines and health benefits are being realized faster than predicted. 

Administrator Pruitt is reviewing the rule, and you made it clear, you in your private meeting that you will not recuse yourself from working on this issue. If the mercury and air toxic rule is revoked, how is that good for public health? And if the rule is revoked, will power plants stop running pollution control technology they already bought, paid for, and installed, and how is that good for ratepayers? “

Wehrum: “Well, senator, I think a point you're trying to make is rule of law's important. And, you know, there's no better example than this particular standard. […]

In an interchange with senator Jeff Merkley, Wehrum responded to questions regarding his views on climate change.  [14]

Senator Merkley: “Do you believe, with high confidence, that human activity is the major driver of climate change?”

Wehrum: “I think human activity contributes to climate change, senator, yes.”

Merkley: “When you say 'yes', do you believe it's the major driver of climate change?”

Wehrum: “I believe that's an open question, Senator.”

Merkley later asked Wehrum about whether he acknowledges the issue of ocean acidification:

Merkley: “Are you familiar with increasing acidity of the ocean?”

Wehrum: “I understand there's an allegation that…”

Merkley: “Oh my goodness. You've got to be kidding me. Really?”

Wehrum: “I understand that there are allegations that's true.”

Merkley: “You're in this field, and you have never read anything about the increasing acidity of the ocean? […]

No one can look at what is happening on the planet and see that there is nothing happening unless you are deliberately determined to miss, to ignore that information, and that makes you really quite frankly unacceptable to serve in this capacity. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

December 6, 2006

While Wehrum was leading the air program under the Bush administration, NRDC reported the EPA illegally evaded protections under the Clean Air Act that would have required industry compliance with air pollution requirements by no later than 2007. [5]

DC Circuit federal appellate judges wrote the EPA's losing legal arguments had amounted to “the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA’s desires for the plain text of” the law. Coal- and oil-fired power plants didn't end up being required to comply with new regulations until 2015, amounting to an 8-year long amnesty period for power plants. [5]

April 2006

Wehrum went through his first confirmation hearing as nominee for Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation at the EPA during the George W. Bush Administration. View video at C-SPAN. [15]

In 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported Wehrum—who had been nominated to permanently take a position at the Office of Air and Radiation— withdrew his nomination permanently after Senator Barbara Boxer of California had put a hold on his nomination. [16], [4]

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) made a statement on Wehrum's nomination where he declared: “During his five-year tenure with the EPA, Mr. Wehrum has worked to undermine the very same environmental protections that I have worked throughout my career to put in place. His disdain for the Clean Air Act is alarming. Mr. Wehrum has repeatedly chosen to ignore career EPA professionals and fight for polluters, rather than public health.” [17]

March 15, 2006

DeSmog reported that while Wehrum was initially working at the EPA, he had advised then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to deny California's request to have its own set of more-stringent pollution standards than those the EPA set nationally. [18]

In an internal email to EPA staff, Wehrum wrote:

I think we should assert the existence of preemption and propose to deny the waiver based on the absence of compelling and extraordinary conditions.”

In a later letter denying the request, Administrator Johnson used similar language to Wehrum. Johnson wrote to Governor Schwarzenegger:

In light of the global nature of the problem of climate change, I have found that California does not have a ‘need to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.’

Wehrum later publicly confirmed he had argued against granting the waiver. [19]

Affiliations

  • EPA Office of Office of Air and Radiation — Assistant Administrator (Nov 2017 – present). Previously EPA's Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation (2005 – 2007), as well as Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator and counsel to the Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation (2001 – 2005). [2]
  • Hunton & Williams LLP Former partner (2007 – 2017). [2], [1]
  • Latham & Watkins — Worked with Jeffrey Holmstead before initially  joining the EPA. [20]

Former Clients

Wehrum's client list has included a range of industry groups such as: [8]

According to financial disclosures, Wehrum's other clients have included: [8]

Social Media

Publications

Resources

  1. William L. Wehrum,” Hunton & Williams. Archived October 23, 2017. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/IiEvK

  2. About the Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation,” EPA.govArchived August 23, 2018.

  3. Timothy Cama. “Trump riles Dems with pick for powerful EPA job,” The Hill, September 10, 2017. Archived August 23, 2018. Archive URL: https://archive.fo/MgWgQ

  4. Chris Baltimore. “White House pulls nomination to top EPA air post,” Reuters, April 11, 2007. Archived August 23, 2018. Archive URL: https://archive.fo/dn8yS

  5. John Walke. “Where Will Bill Wehrum, Trump’s Latest EPA Nominee, Take Us On Clean Air?NRDC, September 8, 2017.

  6. About the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR),” EPA.gov. Archived August 23, 2018.

  7. Katherine Boyle. “Former EPA administrator to head policy institute,” GreenWire, June 4, 2008. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  8. EPA's William Wehrum and the Effort to Move Industry's Agenda,The New York Times. Retrieved from DocumentCloud.

  9. EUEC 2017” (PDF), euec.com. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  10. Eric Lipton. “As Trump Dismantles Clean Air Rules, an Industry Lawyer Delivers for Ex-Clients,” The New York Times, August 19, 2018. Archived August 28, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/bxPWA

  11. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!” Senator LOSES HIS PATIENCE with Climate-Denying Trump Nomi |News]” YouTube video uploaded by user “The World News” on October 7, 2017. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

  12. “Opening Statement of William L. Wehrum Assistant Administrator Office of Air and Radiation U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): EPA’s New Source Review Program” (PDF), docs.house.gov, May 16, 2018. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  13. Trump administration to replace Obama's Clean Power Plan with weaker greenhouse gas rules for power plants,” CNBC, August 21, 2018. Archived August 29, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/fxofP

  14. “Hearing on the Nominations of Michael Dourson, Matthew Leopold, David Ross, and William Wehrum to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeffery Baran to be a Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, October 4, 2017. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

  15. Environment and Public Works Nominations,” C-SPAN, April 5, 2006.

  16. Judy Pasternak. “White House drops two nominees for environment jobs,” Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2007. Archived August 29, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/LXt4P

  17. (Press Release). “SEN. JEFFORDS' STATEMENT ON WEHRUM NOMINATION,” U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, April 25, 2006. Archived August 29, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/DS9Ax

  18. Ben Jervey. “Bill Wehrum Once Denied California's Right to Cut Auto Emissions, and Could Do It Again at EPA,” DeSmog, February 6, 2018.

  19. Richard Simon and Janet Wilson. “EPA staff turned to former chief on warming,” Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2008. Archived August 24, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/nHlfz

  20. Eric Pianin. “Proposed Mercury Rules Bear Industry Mark,” The Washington Post, January 31, 2004. Archived August 30, 2018. Archive.is URL: https://archive.fo/BPNc0

  21. EPA Proposes Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule,” EPA.gov, August 21, 2018. Archived August 30, 2018. Archive URL: https://archive.fo/37rdE

  22. Deregulation Nation: Coal-Fired Power Plants,” The1A.org, August 29, 2018. Archived mp3 on file at DeSmog.

Other Resources