THE LIGHTBULB

Bill Wehrum, a lobbyist-turned-top air official, is no longer serving at President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency. But his tenure is still a matter of great concern for members of Congress and the agency’s internal watchdog. 

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a new report Sunday that claims to have uncovered new evidence that Wehrum violated Trump administration ethics rules, which limit political appointees from dealing with former employers and clients. And that comes as The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports Monday that the EPA’s office of inspector general is also looking into interactions between Wehrum, who until last month led the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, with industry players who lobbied the government to ease carbon pollution limits. 

From Eilperin: "The EPA’s inspector general is looking at Wehrum’s interactions with his former law firm as well as several of its clients, who rank among the nation’s major emitters of greenhouse gases linked to climate change, according to two individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter."

The probes highlight the extent to which ethics troubles follow Trump’s environmental deputies — such as former EPA chief Scott Pruitt or interior secretary Ryan Zinke — even after they leave government.

In a letter sent Sunday, Senate Democrats urged the EPA's inspector general “in the strongest possible terms" not to stop probing into Wehrum even though he has left the agency.

The report from Sens. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) delves into how the EPA under Wherum pushed for regulatory changes that had, in turn, been pushed by four different industry groups represented by Wehrum’s old law firm. Before joining the administration, Wehrum spent a decade at a law firm, now called Hunton Andrews Kurth, which works on EPA issues. 

For example, the EPA acted on a request from one Hunton-represented industry group, the NAAQS Implementation Coalition, that would allow domestic companies in states in the middle of the country to potentially pollute more — ostensibly due to less pollution coming across far-away international borders.

The coalition also asked the EPA to narrow the meaning of “ambient air” — a legal term in the Clean Air Act — in a way that would reduce which outdoor areas are protected. In the past, the EPA defined it as the air to which the public has access (and, therefore, can breathe in). Fenced-off areas near factories, for example, did not have to meet certain clean air standards. 

A draft memo from Wehrum’s office last year called for expanding that exemption to include area deemed off-limits to the public because they are monitored by remote cameras or by drones or are too rugged to reach.

“Clarifying how EPA interprets the definition of ‘ambient air’ is a good first step in improving the agency’s outdated and cumbersome approach to evaluating the air quality impacts of projects to modernize U.S. manufacturing plants,” said Paul Noe, vice president of public policy at the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade association for paper and other wood product makers that is part of the NAAQS Implementation Coalition. 

For Senate Democrats, here is the rub: The coalition demanding these changes included a number of organizations from which Wehrum has recused himself under his ethics pledge, including the American Forest and Paper Association, American Petroleum Institute and the Brick Industry Association.

“This is yet another example where the Trump administration has done just the opposite of ‘draining the swamp,’ by empowering polluting industries and installing those industries’ lobbyists and lawyers at the highest levels of our federal government,” Carper said in a statement.

And some environmentalists, keen on preserving air quality for outdoorsmen, were quick to criticize the draft memo when it came out last year.

“So industry may increase harmful air pollution & violate health standards over steep cliffs or rugged terrain, EPA says,” said John Walke, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Rock climbers, hikers, rugged-terrain-traversers, so sorry, you will be breathing unhealthy air.”

Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

Read more here:

Climate and Environment
Bill Wehrum, who resigned last month, was a chief architect of policies reversing limits on carbon pollution
Juliet Eilperin
POWER PLAYS

— Someday, a turtle may end up with a Trump-branded straw in its nose: You read that right. The reelection campaign for President Trump late last week released a plastic pack of straws branded with his name, selling for $15 per 10 plastic straws -- an effort to rake in a few dollars while mocking straw bans emerging nationwide amid growing awareness about plastic waste in the ocean. “Liberal paper straws don’t work,” the campaign site read. “Plus, they are reusable and recyclable for consumers who are environmentally conscious but unwilling to give up plastic straws,” The Post’s Eli Rosenberg reports

Flashback: In an interview with The Post last month, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said tackling marine debris as his top international priority. But when it comes specifically to plastic straws, he added: "The plastic straw bans, that’s not what’s creating the problem in the oceans. That’s a drop in the bucket, as far as the amount of plastic."

— New York goes in on offshore wind: After passing major climate legislation last month, the state of New York reached an agreement to build two wind turbine farms off of the coast of Long Island. Per the New York Times, the projects will "start operation within the next five years and have the capacity to produce 1,700 megawatts of electricity." And they come as the United States, with only five commercial offshore wind turbines in operation now, plays catchup with Europe. Similar proposals are in various stages of development off of the coasts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and California.

— Elsewhere in New York: There were at least 50,000 customers who lost power in New York City and Westchester County on Sunday amid a heat wave in the region, including 30,000 Brooklyn customers. Those Brooklyn customers had their power cut so the utility Con Edison could make repairs to prevent a major outage, the New York Times reports. By Sunday night, Con Edison and P.S.E.G. Long Island “were asking customers across neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to limit the use of electrical appliances. Con Edison said it had reduced voltage by 8 percent in affected areas to protect equipment and maintain service as repairs were made.”

— U.N. nuclear watchdog chief dies: Yukiya Amano, a Japanese diplomat and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, died at 72 on Monday. “Amano had held the post since 2009 and guided the agency through heated international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. He oversaw the implementation of intensified inspections of Tehran’s atomic energy activities,” The Post’s Erin Cunningham reports. “His death could plunge the IAEA into a period of uncertainty, as tensions with Iran over its nuclear program are again on the rise.”

— Energy funding is helping fuel 2020 campaigns: Oil and gas executives have been among the biggest contributors to the president’s 2020 campaign and the Trump Victory joint fundraising committee, E&E News reports based on records submitted to the Federal Election Commission for April through June. Meanwhile, most Democratic candidates are largely getting donations from rank-and-file employees at fossil fuel companies as well as contributions from environmental advocates and members of the clean energy industry. 

DAYBOOK

Today                     

  • The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment holds a hearing on improving hurricane resiliency through research.

Coming Up

  • The House Homeland Security on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery holds a hearing on “Assessing Emergency Preparedness for Underserved Populations” on Tuesday.
  • The Senate Commerce, Science, Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries and Weather holds a hearing on America’s waterfronts on Tuesday.
  • The House Budget Committee holds a hearing on climate change costs on Wednesday.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change holds a hearing on decarbonizing the economy on Wednesday.
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hold a hearing renewable energy on public lands on Thursday.
EXTRA MILEAGE

— Moon landing: As part of an installation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, a lunar bootprint was projected onto the Washington Monument at the same moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.