Statement of Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt.
Ranking Member, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
On the Nomination of William Wehrum
As EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation
Mr. Chairman: I have served on this committee for many years, and we have worked together to consider the qualifications of many nominees who have come before us. As a general matter, I have long believed that the President, regardless of his party, has a right to pick the people who will serve in his Administration. However, the Constitution does impose upon this body a duty to ensure that nominees meet certain basic qualifications for fitness. It also asks us to confirm that these nominees will faithfully implement the laws that they are entrusted to administer. Unfortunately, based on my review of William Wehrum’s record, I will not be able to support his nomination for this critical post. During Mr. Wehrum’s five-year tenure with the EPA, he has been a key player in some very troubling decisions that reflect this Administration’s abysmal record on clean air. In fact, I think it is safe to say that Mr. Wehrum’s actions have shown a pattern of disdain for the 1990 Clean Air Act that I proudly worked on with the first President Bush to pass into law. As we sit here today, the EPA is hard at work with yet another rule change, to New Source Review, that will weaken that Clean Air Act yet again in favor of the polluters. They do it in the name of reform. I call it roll back. The question is, where does it stop? This EPA, under the direction of Mr. Wehrum and his predecessor, Mr. Holmstead, has blocked, undermined or “revised” air quality programs that were enacted on a bipartisan basis by this Committee, and which were meant to protect the public from toxic air pollutants, such as mercury, and other dangerous chemicals. They have often done so with complete disregard for the advice offered by EPA career professionals or sound science. They have squelched open and honest debate, while offering legal theories and policy positions that clearly run counter to the plain language of the Clean Air Act. Luckily, some of their theories and positions have been invalidated by the courts, such as last month’s federal appeals court ruling that struck down the EPA’s effort to help power plants avoid updating their pollution controls. These policy decisions are often made behind closed doors with the help of a close relationship between Mr. Wehrum and his former colleagues in industry. We have learned of these relationships through investigations by impartial bodies, such as the Government Accountability Office and the EPA's own Inspector General. Adding to this pattern of secrecy, this Administration has repeatedly failed to provide this Committee with information that is critical to its oversight role. Contrary to EPA claims, this is not privileged information in all cases. And these are not trivial matters. They relate to mercury poisoning and toxic air pollutants; they relate to the public’s risk of cancer and a host of other adverse health effects. Mr. Chairman, I believe this Administration, with the help of Mr. Wehrum, has lost sight of the function of the Environmental Protection Agency. We, in Congress and in government, have an obligation to protect public health. And that means respecting the laws that are intended to do so, not rolling them back. It is rare for me to oppose a President’s nominee. Unfortunately, this nominee’s record at the EPA has left me with little choice.