President recycles three nominees

All have faced opposition in Congress over stands on environmental issues

April 01, 2007|By Judy Pasternak | Judy Pasternak,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The White House has re-nominated three people for top jobs affecting the environment who were previously blocked in Congress because of their pro-industry views.

If necessary, said industry lobbyists and Republican aides in Congress, Bush intends to skirt the Senate approval process by making recess appointments to put the three nominees in the posts.

All three have ties to industries that face costly Environmental Protection Agency restrictions, and all three previously have bypassed or questioned the EPA's scientific process.

They are William Wehrum, who would lead the air office of the EPA; Alex Beehler, to be the EPA's inspector general; and Susan Dudley, who would become White House regulations czar.

The White House believes that all three nominees "are highly qualified and well versed in their areas," said spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore. She said she "would not speculate" on Bush's plans for any recess appointments.

Although Democrats control Congress and have placed environmental protection high on their agenda, the White House plans for the key regulatory jobs demonstrate that the administration still has plenty of tools at its command.

The president can bypass the Senate when lawmakers are on break and fill key vacancies for the duration of a congressional session.

Bush, like other presidents, has used such recess appointments to get around Senate opposition, as when he named John Bolton as United Nations ambassador.

Wehrum and Beehler were proposed for the same posts last year, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, blocked the nominations. Boxer now chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, where the names have been sent again. "I view it as an enormous threat to public health that the president refuses to back off," she said.

The committee plans hearings on both men in April.

Dudley's nomination stalled in the last congressional session when the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee did not vote on it. Liberal groups had objected to her candidacy.

Wehrum, a former lawyer for the chemical, utility and auto industries, was counsel to the EPA's air office when controversy erupted over the agency's new standard for power plant mercury emissions. The mercury rule contained whole paragraphs lifted verbatim from a memo by Latham & Watkins, Wehrum's former law firm, which represented utility companies affected by the rule.

The agency's inspector general denounced the effort for relying on industry input over science. Wehrum has acknowledged that it was he who forwarded the language to EPA subordinates who were writing the rule.

"The concern was that there was collusion," Wehrum said in an interview. "I categorically deny that."

In late 2005, Wehrum became acting air administrator, a temporary promotion that expires July 7. Bush's appointment would keep him in the job. His decisions continue to generate controversy among the EPA's independent science advisory panels and the career staff.

Judy Pasternak writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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