Hunton & Williams LLP

Trump's Nominee For EPA Air Office Thinks Climate Change Is an 'Open Question'

"Why should the American people put into an office of significant influence someone who refuses to look at the facts directly…?"

12 OCT 2017

William Wehrum, an industry attorney who has been nominated by President Trump associate administrator the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation, made clear this week in his confirmation hearing that he is ill-equipped for the position.


On Wednesday, in front of a Senate Committee, Wehrum expressed his doubts about human-caused climate change, joining several other administration officials in his refusal to accept human contributions to the climate crisis.

When Senator Jeff Merkley asked Wehrum, "Do you believe with high confidence that human activities [are] the main driver of climate change?", Wehrum replied, "I believe that's an open question."

Instead, Wehrum proposed the false claim that there is still doubt in the scientific community about whether humans are contributing to climate change.

When Merkley responded by showing Wehrum three charts illustrating the role of human activity in global warming using NASA data, Wehrum refused to comment on the correlation, saying, "I'm not familiar with those data. I have no idea what it depicts."

Merkley said he had heard Wehrum's statement before, and argued that it was a "coached answer" that had been used by the likes of Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Perry during their Senate confirmation hearings. He stated that such a refusal to accept scientific consensus is immediately disqualifying for the position of associate administrator.


"Why should the American people put into an office of significant influence someone who refuses to look at the facts directly that are so important to the health of this planet?" asked Merkley.

In the past, Wehrum has aggressively supported the idea that the EPA should deny greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, but environmental advocates are understandably worried that such a candidate in such a powerful position could be detrimental to future environmental policy-making.

As associate administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation, Wehrum would oversee emission-related regulations, including carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector, ozone pollution, and mercury.

California is particularly worried about the nomination. In 2006, Wehrum blocked California from using an official waiver from Congress that allows the state to set stricter vehicle mileage standards than those implemented by the federal government.

During the hearing, Senator Kamala Harris asked Wehrum specifically whether or not he would try to block California from using this waiver.


"Will you commit, if confirmed, to follow the science and law … and recognize California's authority to issue its own new vehicle standards?" Harris asked.

"My commitment to you would be to understand that provision as much as possible and to implement it as faithfully as possible," replied Wehrum.

The evasive response upset several climate advocates, including Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign.

"Senator Harris asked him to commit to protecting California's right to protect its citizens," Becker said. "He dodged completely."

And he wasn't the only one that was upset. The Sierra Club came out hard against the candidate's repeated "efforts to undermine clean air standards", and John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that if confirmed, Wehrum would become Trump's "dirty air czar."

According to a statement made by Walke, Wehrum has "dedicated his entire career to rolling back EPA health and clean air protections for Americans, while at EPA and serving his industry clients."

Wehrum has already been denied this very same position once in 2006, when Democrats won control of the Senate and blocked Wehrum from receiving a permanent position at the EPA under the Bush administration.

But this time, Democrats may not have the numbers to do so again.