Head of EPA Water Office to Retire in November

By Susan Bruninga

Oct. 26 — Ken Kopocis, head of the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water since August 2014, will retire in early November, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in an Oct. 26 memo to staff.

McCarthy also announced the appointment of Joel Beauvais to replace Kopocis as acting head of the water office.

“Ken has been instrumental in leading the Office of Water, particularly in finalizing the historic Clean Water Rule that better protects our nation’s water resources,” said the McCarthy memo, which cited numerous other accomplishments and regulations released during Kopocis's tenure.

These include the recently released effluent limitation guideline for the steam electric generating power plants (RIN 2040-AF14), which is the agency expects will reduce discharges of toxic pollutants by 1.4 billion pounds from more than 1,000 coal, gas and nuclear power plants.

Major Cooling Water Rule 

Another significant rule covering 544 power plants and 521 factories that withdraw at least 2 million gallons of cooling water per day and use 25 percent of that for cooling purposes also was issued under Kopocis's watch (79 Fed. Reg. 48,300).

But the Clean Water Rule, which seeks to define “waters of the U.S.” that are subject to the permitting requirements and protections of the federal Clean Water Act, is probably the most significant rulemaking from the water office in recent years. Developed and published jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the rule (RIN 2040-AF30) has spawned lawsuits from more than 30 states and 20 organizations representing a broad spectrum of interests and at least half a dozen hearings before Congress.

Never Confirmed by Senate 

While Kopocis has been serving in the leadership position in the Office of Water—as deputy assistant administrator for water—he has never been confirmed by the Senate to the politically appointed position of assistant administrator. He was first nominated in 2011 by President Barack Obama be the assistant administrator and is the longest-delayed appointee having waited, so far, more than 1,600 days.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved his nomination twice, but he was never approved by the full Senate because of holds placed on his appointment by members opposed to the Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule.

He took over the Office of Water leadership after the departure in August 2014 of Nancy Stoner.

Prior to his appointment at the EPA, Kopocis served as counsel on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He worked with the late Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), chair of the T&I Committee, who himself worked on the committee as staff director in the early 1970s when it shepherded the Clean Water Act through passage in the House. Kopocis had a hand in later attempts to amend the law to clarify the scope of its coverage.

New Head of Water Office 

After Kopocis's departure, Beauvais will assume the role of acting deputy assistant administrator for water, McCarthy's memo said.

Beauvais has been serving as the associate administrator for policy for the past two years where he has managed the agency's relationship with White House Office of Management and Budget on interagency review of regulations and has led EPA's efforts on economic analysis and climate adaptation.

“He is well-versed in EPA’s water policy priorities, and he brings to the table extensive experience with EPA policy across program offices and a broad and deep network within OMB, the White House and other federal agencies,” McCarthy said in the memo.

Beauvais also has been associate assistant administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation and Special Counsel to the Office of the Administrator in the Office of General Counsel and previously worked on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He clerked for former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court.

One observer said that Kopocis has put several regulations in place and predicted that Beauvais's job would be to “keep the train moving forward” on defending and implementing them.

With assistance from Amena H. Saiyid

To contact the reporter on this story: Susan Bruninga in Washington at sbruninga@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com