EPA Air Quality Chief Resigns Over Ethics Investigation
So little time, so much damage done. That's the legacy left by Bill Wehrum who spent only one and a half years as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) top air quality official before announcing that he will step down this weekend under the cloud of a federal ethics investigation over possible conflicts of interest. His resignation follows conflicting statement he made to Congress about his industry connections, according to Politico.
Mr. Wehrum worked as a lobbyist and lawyer for the oil, gas and coal industries before joining the Trump administration, but did not relinquish ties to his clients. The House Energy and Commerce Committee opened an inquiry into whether he improperly worked to reverse an enforcement action in order to help DTE Energy, a former client. Watchdog groups also said he crossed a line when he gave presentations to former clients and when he worked on policy that affected litigation in which his former firm, Hunton & Williams, was involved, as The New York Times reported.
"William Wehrum was emblematic of the administration's struggles to remain ethical," said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "While it's a good thing that Wehrum's potential ethics problems will no longer affect the agency, the tone is set at the top, and if the EPA is to clean up the mess started by Scott Pruitt, the Trump administration needs to get serious about policing its ethical failures."
In his short tenure in the EPA, which started in November 2017, Wehrum has proven himself a nimble deregulator. He was instrumental to shrinking the EPA's reach, rolling back Obama-era rules meant to lower greenhouse gas emissions, slowing fuel-efficiency requirements for cars and trucks, and rewriting the way the EPA calculates costs and benefits to favor the fossil fuel energy sector — essentially rewriting the way the agency measures the health consequences of air pollution, as The Washington Post reported. He was also the chief architect of the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which eased the path for more coal-fired power plants to open, according to The New York Times.
"Mr. Wehrum oversaw the most relentless rollback of clean air, climate and health safeguards in E.P.A.'s history," said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, as The New York Times reported. "E.P.A. strengthened not a single meaningful air quality or climate safeguard during his tenure."
Environmental activists are pleased to see him leave.
"Wehrum did more damage to the Clean Air Act than any other person in the last 40 years," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, as Politico reported. "His legacy will be more premature deaths, more hospital visits and more asthma attacks to our most vulnerable citizens."
Wehrum's ethical mishaps follow a pattern of behavior from senior Trump administration officials who have resigned while under investigation, including four Cabinet members — EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin — along with other senior staffers such as Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator William "Brock" Long.
Also, the Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General is currently investigating Secretary David Bernhardt and six current or former top appointees for actions similar to Wehrum's — improper dealings with their former employers or clients on department-related business, as The Washington Post reported.
As for Wehrum's life after the EPA, one Senate Democrat who asked for an investigation into Wehrum predicted a profitable future with the fossil fuel industry.
"I can't wait to see where Bill Wehrum lands once he's out the door," said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in a statement, as reported by The Washington Post. "What do you bet it's with one of the fossil fuel interests he has served so well as air chief, delivering one big handout after another?"
The Top-Down Contamination of the EPA || By: Jeff Turrentine https://t.co/hiaJ9raA1V— SafetyPin-Daily (@SafetyPinDaily) June 5, 2019
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John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
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We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
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<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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