UPDATE: July 11, 2019: The Senate voted 52-38 to confirm Peter Wright as assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). Democratic lawmakers raised final objections in recent days, using the opportunity to call on the EPA to declare PFAS a "hazardous substance" under Superfund law. Wright will now shift from his interim role as "special counsel to the administrator" after being nominated for this position more than 16 months ago.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee voted 11-10 along party lines to approve the nomination of Peter Wright for assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of OLEM on Feb. 5.
- Wright was nominated in March 2018 and had a committee hearing in June, but his nomination has since been stalled. The EPW committee was set to vote on it at the end of the last Congress, but Politico reported the process was held up by opposition from Sen. Bob Menendez D-NJ over broader Superfund-related policy issues.
- The nomination of Andrew Wheeler (currently acting administrator) to become the official administrator of the EPA was also advanced out of the EPW committee by a 11-10 vote.
The OLEM assistant administrator position has the most direct bearing on waste and recycling industry policy at the national level, including oversight of the offices of Resource Conservation and Recovery, Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and Brownfields and Land Remediation, among others. Wright's background as managing counsel at the Dow Chemical Company included a primary focus on Superfund activities, and this angle was prominently emphasized when his nomination was announced last year.
Wright has agreed to recuse himself from any business pertaining to the now merged DowDuPont, including an estimated 300 contaminated sites, as first reported by Bloomberg. Amid the prolonged confirmation process, Wright was one of two nominees appointed as a "special counsel to the administrator." The move raised concern from Democrats on the Senate EPW committee at the time, but Wright's work has continued.
Talk of his nomination has been quiet in the months since. In contrast, Alexandra Dunn — who most recently served as EPA's Region 1 administrator — was nominated and confirmed for another assistant administrator post within a little more than four months.
In the meantime, Wright has already been engaging in his desired role. During the EPA Recycling Summit in Nov. 2018, he was seated directly next to Wheeler in a prominent position. Yet Barry Breen, acting assistant administrator of OLEM, did all the talking. Wright is also scheduled to speak at SWANApalooza in Boston this month and the North American Waste-to-Energy Conference in Virginia this spring.
The OLEM assistant administrator position was previously held by Mathy Stanislaus, who served for the majority of the Obama administration and is credited with driving the EPA's focus on sustainable materials management. Stanislaus is currently a circular economy fellow at the World Resources Institute.