Sunday, April 23, 2006

Business -- as usual

The guy who won his spurs by designing the EPA's policy allowing power plants to keep emitting mercury will soon be out of that position, at least if the Bush Administration has anything to say about it. That's because they want to promote him to be Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air & Radiation. That doesn't sit so well with more than a dozen public health groups, including Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). Here's what they said in a letter to Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee who is set to vote shortly on the appointment:
Mr. Wehrum was an architect of EPAís approach allowing power plants to continue emitting toxic mercury emissions at excessively harmful levels for nearly two decades longer than the Clean Air Act allows. Last year, EPA revoked its prior determination that it was necessary and appropriate to regulate power plant mercury emissions as a hazardous air pollutant. This step purported to eliminate the agencyís legal obligation to adopt plant-specific pollution controls requiring deep reductions in mercury and other hazardous pollutants by 2008. Instead, EPA adopted a weaker and delayed cap-and-trade approach that dispenses with plant-specific control obligations and fails to require mercury-specific reductions until 2018. In fact, EPAís own analysis projects that the utility industry will not achieve the agency's required reduction level until sometime after 2025. This approach also abandons regulation of other hazardous air pollutants from power plants altogether. On September 13, 2005, 47 senators voted in favor of a Congressional resolution disapproving this regulation.

EPA’s Inspector General found that the mercury rulemaking process was “compromised,” in large measure because EPA senior management told agency staff what result they wanted (34 tons annual mercury emissions) and directed staff to work backwards to achieve the combination of standards for different types of power plants that would yield this pre-determined result. Even when staff analysis projected achievable emission levels lower than senior management’s chosen outcome, EPA failed to make this analysis public until the Inspector General’s highly critical report disclosed it. EPA also refused to conduct analysis of more protective mercury control levels requested by the Federal Advisory Committee that EPA created to receive advice on the mercury rule. According to the Los Angeles Times, at a meeting when EPA staff expected to be discussing how to conduct the comparative studies requested by the advisory committee,

William Wehrum, a senior advisor to [then Assistant Administrator] Holmstead who also represented industry clients before joining the Bush administration, told the dozen or so staffers that comparative studies would be postponed indefinitely.” The agency never conducted the studies. (full .pdf of PSR letter to EPW here)
That's just for starters. It takes PSR three pages of densely packed particulars just to hit the highlights. PSR wants Senators to vote against Wehrum, but this is a Republican dream appointment, so it's not likely. He's proved his worth to the power industry so that's all the qualifications he needs in this Administration.

There are some really stinker faux Democrats out there (Joe Lieberman in the Senate and Jane Harmon in the House come to mind), but come 2006 if the Republicans lose one or both houses, we are much less likely to see this kind of thing : just Business -- as usual.