A former EPA administrator turned industry consultant has been picked to lead the agency in charge of cleaning up air pollution in Southern California, long the nation’s worst region for foul air.
Wayne Nastri, who oversaw EPA enforcement on the West Coast under the George W. Bush administration, was appointed the new acting head of the South Coast Air Quality Management District by the same board that fired his predecessor four weeks ago. The vote was 12-0 to give Nastri a six-month contract while the agency conducts a nationwide search for a permanent executive officer.
On March 4, the 13-member board voted to dismiss longtime executive officer Barry Wallerstein after members of the board’s new Republican majority vowed to temper new rules to fight smog with concerns from business and industry.
“Wayne brings a strong environmental record and decades of experience at the local, state and federal level working on clean air solutions and myriad environmental issues with the community and stakeholders,” AQMD board chair William Burke said in a statement.
Nastri did not return calls for comment, but in a statement said, “I’m honored to be appointed as acting executive officer of the nation’s largest and most prominent local air pollution control agency. As a resident of this air basin and an environmental professional in the field for over 30 years, I have a deep appreciation of the fact that we face some of the nation’s most challenging air problems.”
Some environmentalists expressed concern over Nastri’s appointment based in part on his record from EPA. He was involved in the creation of two regional air quality plans that courts later overturned as inadequate to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.
Before Friday, Nastri was co-president of the environmental consulting firm E4 Strategic Solutions, which has represented companies with business before the AQMD board.
Adrian Martinez, staff attorney for the environmental law firm EarthJustice, is worried Nastri will bring a pro-business bias to AQMD, particularly as the agency works on a new air quality management plan to meet federal standard for smog and other air pollution.
“This executive officer is going to approve and shepherd through the process the most important smog plan in two decades,” Martinez said. “So whether it’s a short term appointment or not, we have a major air plan coming under this watch. We need someone who is going to put forward a big important bold plan that will bring clean air to Los Angeles residents.”
Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council called Nastri "very smart with a commitment to conservation and public participation in environmental decision making."
Nastri has represented the conservation group Trout Unlimited, and Reynolds has worked with Nastri to stop plans for a massive gold and copper mine in Southeast Alaska.
"I know him pretty well and have worked with him over the past several years," Reynolds said.
Still, Reynolds has not worked with Nastri on air quality issues, and he said Nastri's "ties to regulated industries" is a concern.
"We will be watching him very closely to make sure he elevates the protection of air quality above all other considerations," Reynolds said.
The Center for Responsive Politics lists Nastri among its roster of “revolving door” figures who have alternated service as government regulators with jobs in lobbying and industry.
In the years before he formed E4, Nastri and his E4 partner Howard Berman co-directed energy and environmental issues at mCapitol Management, a Washington, DC-based government relations and lobbying firm. A 2011 client of mCapital Management was Motorola Solutions.
As a lobbyist at Dutko International in 2009 and 2010, Nastri’s clients were the Compressed Gas Association, the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Olin Corp. and Trout Unlmited. Among the big issues facing the AQMD is a potentially multi-million dollar lawsuit seeking to sanction Southern California Gas Company over the gigantic natural gas leak near Porter Ranch.
Nastri headed the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region from 2001-2009. During his tenure, he oversaw work on two air quality plans, for the Los Angeles region and for the San Joaquin Valley, that were both overturned by courts in 2012.
In 2004 Nastri took credit for new on- and off-road diesel rules, which he called “the toughest standards in the world for diesel engines.”
From 1990 to 1995, Nastri was vice president of the lobbying firm Jefferson Group, whose client list was not available.