Bush tries again on EPA posts

WASHINGTON – The White House has re-nominated three people for top jobs affecting the environment who previously were 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 EPA’s scientific process.

They are William Wehrum, who would head 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 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, D-Calif., 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 failed to 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.

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 EPA’s independent science advisory panels and the career staff.

Beehler, a Pentagon official and former executive for Koch Industries, a private oil and chemical conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was hired as the Pentagon’s No. 2 environment manager in 2004. Beehler was involved in an ongoing effort to influence EPA’s consideration of a health standard for perchlorate, a rocket fuel component, according to Defense Department documents.

Dudley headed a free-market think tank, the Mercatus Center, at George Mason University supported in part by Koch Industries, whose chairman sits on the board. Bush has re-nominated her to lead a section of the White House Office of Management and Budget that reviews all proposed government rules, where she is now a special adviser.

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