Trump nominates Dow Chemical lawyer to lead OLEM
- President Donald Trump will nominate Peter C. Wright, currently managing counsel at Dow Chemical Company, to be assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency announced Friday.
- Wright's career, which has included time at Dow, Monsanto and Bryan Cave, has involved providing "legal support for Superfund and other remediation sites," according to the EPA. "[Wright] has the expertise and experience necessary to implement our ambitious goals for cleaning up the nation’s contaminated lands quickly and thoroughly," Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.
- Wright's nomination is not presently listed by the Senate so his confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled. After a hearing, Wright will be subject to a confirmation vote before the full Senate.
OLEM is one of the EPA offices most directly connected to the solid waste industry. Offices under OLEM include Resource Conservation and Recovery — which oversees programs on waste, recycling, municipal waste and sustainable materials management — and the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation.
Given Pruitt's repeated public commitment to Superfund cleanup and remediation, this nomination will likely be a priority at EPA, though Wright may face challenges in confirmation by the Senate. Wright's career with Dow Chemical may be viewed as a conflict of interest because, as a Reuters analysis reveals, Dow has over $200 million in payment obligations to the Superfund.
In July 2016, Wright said he saw room for improvement to the Superfund program. He said broadly, the program was good at finding potentially responsible parties and preventing the designation of new Superfund sites, but there may be room for consolidation at the federal level. He also said many cleanup operations are state-led, and state capacity to manage cleanup has improved.
"Further delegating authority to states, while streamlining the federal role, could serve to simplify and clarify what are now three separate bureaucratic entities," Wright said.
This argument that states should have more direct control over cleanup sites in their borders tracks with recent testimony given by some industry association leaders. Past president of the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials Stephen Cobb told House lawmakers in January the EPA should give states authority to implement cleanup and remediation programs directly, which he said would free up resources for the federal government to clean up sites where a potentially responsible party has not been designated.
As assistant administrator for OLEM, Wright would also oversee the agency's sustainable materials management work, which includes the yet-to-come 2015 Facts & Figures report. The office is expected to revamp its Waste Reduction Model and has been hosting webinars each month on topics from recycling markets to food waste reduction.
One area to watch will be how the agency could change its approach to states' involvement in cleanup programs. Trump's proposed budget included some steep cuts to waste management and recycling programs, so those will be spaces to watch, too.
The previous OLEM leader, Mathy Stanislaus, told Waste Dive in an "exit interview" that his advice for his successor would include looking at "... opportunities to build on the foundation that has been built ... There's a foundation built in partnership with external stakeholders, with the business leaders, with non-governmental organizations, with local and state governments and even our world leaders."
- Environmental Protection Agency Peter Wright Nominated to Lead EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management
- Reuters Trump nominates Dow Chemicals lawyer to oversee EPA toxic waste program
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