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Senate Democrat blocks vote on EPA air nominee

18 Oct 2017, 9.07 pm GMT

Senate Democrat blocks vote on EPA air nominee

Washington, 18 October (Argus) — A US Senate Democrat is blocking a vote on President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency air office over his past work on behalf of industry groups opposed to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) today said she is placing a hold on the nomination of Bill Wehrum to be assistant administrator for air and radiation, which oversees the RFS program. Duckworth said Wehrum's "history of attacking the biofuels industry" and his refusal to recuse himself from RFS issues before the agency should disqualify him from holding in the position.

"Any senator who supports the RFS program, our farmers, and our commitment to the environment and energy dependence must oppose his nomination," she said.

Duckworth also placed a hold on the nomination of Michael Dourson to lead EPA's chemical safety office.

Wehrum led the air office in an acting capacity from 2005-07 under former president George Bush. He currently works as a partner at law firm Hunton & Williams, where he represented food producers and sellers that for years argued the RFS program raised costs. The groups opposed waivers for 15pc ethanol blends of gasoline and provisions that allowed certain older ethanol plants to continue to participate in the program.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was scheduled to vote on the nominations today, but chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) postponed the meeting late yesterday. Duckworth, who sits on the committee, cited her opposition as a reason for the delay. Barrasso's committee office did not respond to a request for comment.

Many Democrats also oppose Wehrum because of his role in drafting controversial Clean Air Act regulations that would have eased requirements for power plants and refiners. Because of his role in those regulations, which were later overturned by the courts, Senate Democrats blocked votes on his nomination for the same job three times in 2006-07.

Now a number of midcontinent senators and lawmakers are questioning EPA's commitment to the RFS and have ramped up pressure on the agency this week, near the end of a public comment period on its consideration of cutting biofuel mandates in response to ongoing trade cases and the large volume of biofuel imports.

Midwestern senators pressed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to support the program yesterday in a meeting. Both Pruitt and Trump called Iowa governor Kim Reynolds (R) today to restate support for the program, the governor said.

The White House said the president and Pruitt did not offer "any assurances" on the RFS. "It was discussed, and they are going to continue to look at that process. But no definitive decision was made," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

The unprompted calls showed the campaign is working, Reynolds said at an afternoon press conference.

"They are feeling the pressure and we need to keep it up," she said.

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