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June 26, 2019 1:45 PM, EDT

Bill Wehrum Departing EPA in Wake of Ethics Allegations

William Wehrum William Wehrum via YouTube

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A high-level U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official with responsibility for trucking policy on glider trucks, nitrogen oxide emissions and the Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas rule for heavy trucks is leaving the agency amid allegations that he violated federal government ethics rules.

Bill Wehrum, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, was set to leave the agency at the end of June, according to a June 26 announcement by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Wehrum’s departure comes less than four months after Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Tom Carper of Delaware and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey sent a letter to the EPA Office of Inspector General requesting an investigation. In their letter, the three lawmakers alleged that Wehrum may have ignored ethics advice from the Office of General Counsel that may have resulted in improper conduct.

A spokeswoman for the OIG declined to say whether her office was investigating the allegations made by the three members of Congress.

In April, Pallone — who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee — Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), sent a series of letters to eight utility companies and the Washington law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth requesting information and documents related to their relationships with the Utility Air Regulatory Group, which they described as a “secretive front group” funded by utility companies and devoted to rolling back Clean Air Act regulations.

“We are concerned that two former employees of your firm — William Wehrum and David Harlow — may have violated federal ethics rules by helping reverse EPA’s position in ongoing litigation,” wrote Pallone, Tonko and DeGette in their letter to the Hunton law firm. Harlow is senior counsel at EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. 

“The Office of Air and Radiation’s agenda appears remarkably similar to the substantive agenda advanced by a group housed at your firm known as UARG,” the letter continued. “These allegations have raised substantial questions regarding whether Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Harlow are properly carrying out the CAA as directed by Congress, or instead changing Agency policies and programs to benefit former clients.”

Christopher Grundler

Grundler

Wehrum’s departure comes only weeks since EPA announced that effective Aug. 4, Christopher Grundler, a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who has overseen a number of regulations that impact the trucking industry, will be reassigned to head an EPA division that deals with climate change issues.

“I would like to thank Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum for his service, his dedication to his job, the leadership he provided to his staff and the agency, and for his friendship,” Wheeler said in the June 26 statement. “While I have known of Bill’s desire to leave at the end of this month for quite sometime, the date has still come too soon. I applaud Bill and his team for finalizing the Affordable Clean Energy regulation last week and for the tremendous progress he has made in so many other regulatory initiatives.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler

Wheeler

Wheeler said he has asked Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Anne Idsal to assume the responsibilities of the acting assistant administrator.

Grundler, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality, will swap jobs with Sarah Dunham, currently director of the Office of Atmospheric Programs, EPA said in a June 7 statement.

“We are hopeful we can continue advancing trucking’s environmental areas of concern, including implementation of the original glider provisions under the Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas rule and the development of a nationally harmonized rule to address the next round of ultra-low NOx engine emission standards for trucks,” said Glen Kedzie, environmental affairs counsel for American Trucking Associations.