Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

EPA's top air quality regulator William Wehrum, who has faced sharp criticism for his past work with polluting industries, is departing the agency at the end of this month, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Wehrum, an attorney who has represented coal-fired power producers and other industry clients, is a key architect of some of the Trump administration's efforts to soften Obama-era policies.

  • Last week, the EPA finalized carbon emissions rules for utilities that are more modest than regulations crafted by Obama's EPA (which never took effect).
  • Wehrum is also deeply involved with forthcoming rules that will freeze auto emissions and mileage standards in 2020, rather than letting them grow more stringent as planned under Obama-era mandates.

Wehrum, who also served in President George W. Bush's EPA, was confirmed by the Senate in a party-line vote in November 2017.

What they're saying: In a statement, Wheeler did not reveal Wehrum's post-agency plans but thanked him for his service, as well as for his "dedication to his job, the leadership he provided to his staff and the agency, and for his friendship."

"While I have known of Bill's desire to leave at the end of this month for quite sometime, the date has still come too soon. I applaud Bill and his team for finalizing the Affordable Clean Energy regulation last week and for the tremendous progress he has made in so many other regulatory initiatives."

The intrigue: House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats opened a probe in April into whether Wehrum and a top aide, David Harlow, were "changing Agency policies and programs to benefit former clients."

  • The probe looks at the pair's work with a recently disbanded group of power companies, the Utility Air Regulatory Group, while both men were with the law firm now called Hunton Andrews Kurth.
  • Wehrum has said he did not run afoul of ethics rules, per the Washington Post.

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