Carlton Waterhouse, whose nomination by the Biden administration to lead the U.S. EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management as assistant administrator has been in limbo since June 2021, will leave the agency on Feb. 10.
Waterhouse, OLEM’s current deputy assistant administrator, said he plans to return to his position at Howard University and spend time with his family. Waterhouse told EPA staff about his plans in an internal email, E&E News first reported.
“My father and mother, career civil servants who served the country faithfully just as they served our family, now need my support in ways that no longer allow me to dedicate the time and attention that my appointment deserves,” he wrote.
It’s unclear what the move means for the OLEM, and the EPA has not yet responded to a request for comment about next steps for the office or position.
In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Waterhouse brought his “unrivaled expertise in environmental law and environmental justice” to the department and took the lead to “oversee the creation and implementation of an Environmental Justice Action Plan for OLEM, advance protections against the harmful impacts of coal ash pollution, and move to protect American communities from the dangers of forever chemicals.”
Waterhouse’s confirmation to become assistant administrator has dragged since President Joe Biden announced the pick in June 2021. The nomination was twice held up in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works — in December 2021 and April 2022 — with Democrats and Republicans disagreeing over whether he would fill the role with an “unbiased” perspective, particularly about the energy industry.
Waterhouse long said he would focus on environmental justice, PFAS management and climate change efforts. That mirrors Biden administration priorities and the EPA’s long-term plans to devote more resources to environmental justice efforts.
In a 2022 interview with Waste Dive, Waterhouse encouraged the waste and recycling industry to make environmental justice a priority in operations beyond what facilities are required to do to meet regulations.
“Environmental justice begins with understanding what impacts you’re having across all of your activities in the communities where you are located,” he said.
In his announcement email, Waterhouse said he will “continue to advocate for environmental protection and environmental justice” and praised EPA staff, as well as Regan and President Biden, for their focus on environmental issues.
In years before he was OLEM’s deputy assistant director, Waterhouse represented the EPA as a lawyer specializing in environmental justice cases. He also has a background in Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act programs. In the 1990s, he worked with state officials to obtain the country’s first approvals for Subtitle D landfills, which include MSW landfills.
This story has been updated to include a comment from EPA Administrator Michael Regan.