A top Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official who is considered the architect of some of the Trump administration’s most controversial climate policies is departing the agency amid mounting scrutiny and scandal.
The EPA said Wednesday that Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, will depart at the end of the month, in an unexpected announcement.
The news comes just one week after the rollout of one of Wehrum’s biggest policy projects — the repeal and replace of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) — and follows increased pressure from Democrats demanding an investigation into potential ethics violations.
“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,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement.
Wehrum has been a controversial figure throughout his tenure with the agency. The official previously worked as a lobbyist for clients the EPA is responsible for regulating. Those clients include the American Petroleum Institute (API), American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and other industry groups that he has remained close with while in office.
ThinkProgress reported in May that Wehrum had taken meetings with the American Chemistry Council (ACC), whose clients include fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil Chemical and Chevron Phillips Chemical, along with DuPont, a company that has been sued repeatedly over deadly man-made chemicals.
Wehrum is also closely tied to some of President Donald Trump’s most contentious environmental rollbacks and policies. That legacy includes the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule announced just last week. The rule replaces the CPP, which served as the only major federal plan seeking to dramatically curb emissions from coal-fired power plants in order to address climate change. By contrast, the ACE rule has largely been seen as a boon for the coal industry, which Trump has repeatedly tried to save.
Another defining element of Wehrum’s tenure is the Trump administration’s ongoing war with California over the state’s EPA waiver allowing it to impose stricter vehicle emissions standards. Wehrum has worked closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on crafting a national freeze on emissions standards, one that climate and health experts have cautioned could harm both people and the environment.
Wehrum has faced growing scrutiny as his profile has risen within the agency. He came under fire last week during a heated hearing over California’s emissions and Democrats have increasingly targeted him for potential ethics violations.
An ongoing House Energy and Commerce Committee probe is also targeting Wehrum’s former law firm, Hunton Andrew Kurth. That probe is looking into whether Wehrum breached the Trump ethics pledge, which bars political appointees from certain matters involving former clients for two years. Wehrum has admitted to meeting with former clients at his old firm shortly after joining the EPA.
With his departure, Wehrum joins a long list of Trump administration officials who have departed amid scrutiny and scandal, including former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Departing officials have frequently joined industry jobs, as is the case with Pruitt, who is now lobbying on behalf of coal. It is unclear what Wehrum’s next move might be, but in his statement Wheeler thanked the official for “his service, his dedication to his job, the leadership he provided to his staff and the agency, and for his friendship.”
Wehrum’s role at the EPA will be momentarily assumed by Anne Idsal, currently the office’s principal deputy assistant. Idsal, a Texan whose family has deep ties to the Republican party, said upon joining the agency that she was still deciding if she believes in climate change.