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June 8, 2007 9:00 AM, EDT

EPA Official Resigns as Head of Emissions Program

Senate Declined to Confirm Wehrum for Position

By Andrea Fischer, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the June 4 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Bill Wehrum, acting assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, resigned after the U.S. Senate declined to confirm his nomination to the assistant administrator post, EPA said.

Wehrum has led the office that oversees EPA’s diesel emissions program since President Bush nominated him for the position in February 2006.

The resignation followed an April 11 message from President Bush to Wehrum, withdrawing his nomination to be EPA assistant administrator.

Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sharply criticized Wehrum during his confirmation hearing in March 2006, objecting to his contribution to EPA’s stance on industrial pollutants.

At the hearing, committee members focused on a proposal drafted during Wehrum’s tenure that would allow industries that produce benzene, cyanide, asbestos, lead, mercury and chlorine to reclassify themselves as minor sources of pollution under the Clean Air Act’s toxics program.

Committee members said the measure would allow industrial facilities to avoid complying with stringent technology controls to limit pollution (4-10-06, p. 5).

“Mr. Wehrum’s record has reflected” that he is “substituting industry positions for public health,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) during the hearing. The nomination “is very troubling.”

Boxer was in the minority at the time but now leads the committee.

Wehrum said in a May 23 e-mail to EPA employees that his resignation would take effect June 1.

“I believe that we’ve made great strides in reducing air pollution and improving health and the environment.  I also think the stage is set for further significant progress over the next couple of years,” Wehrum said.

EPA said Bob Meyers, deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, would become the principal deputy assistant administrator, which would allow him to serve as acting assistant administrator following Wehrum’s departure.

Wehrum became acting head of the air and radiation office after Jeffrey Holmstead left the post in 2005. Before being named to this position, Wehrum was counsel to Holmstead, providing legal advice on various clean-air issues.

Prior to joining EPA, Wehrum worked as an environmental engineer for AlliedSignal and later as an environmental attorney at law firms Latham & Watkins and Swidler & Berlin.