EPA aide cleared to do outside media work

EPA aide cleared to do outside media work
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An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staffer has a side job as a media consultant.

John Konkus, a political staffer in the EPA’s press office, was cleared by the agency’s ethics office in August to provide “consultative media advice” for at least two clients, as well as others he intended to sign with.

The arrangement was revealed in a letter the EPA sent in January to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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But the agency redacted the names of the clients Konkus was approved to work for.

Konkus has attracted significant attention among environmentalists and Democrats because EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses EPA didn't conduct required analyses of truck engine rule: internal watchdog Is Big Oil feeling the heat? MORE empowered him to review all of the agency’s grants to determine whether they align with Trump administration priorities.

In one case, Konkus cut off grant funding to a newspaper that covers the Chesapeake Bay and its ecosystem, a decision that Pruitt reversed last week.

Pallone and his colleagues said Konkus’s outside employment, and the EPA’s secrecy about it, raise significant questions about conflicts of interest in his job.

“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest,” Pallone wrote along with Democratic Reps. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteDemocrats request info on Google-Ascension partnership Trump health chief declines to detail ObamaCare replacement plan A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal MORE (Colo.), Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoDemocrats unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 House committee advances sweeping legislation to battle 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule MORE (N.Y.) and Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorOvernight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Pelosi warns of 'existential' climate threat, vows bold action Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows to push for Paris climate goals | Senate confirms Brouillette to succeed Perry at Energy | EPA under attack from all sides over ethanol rule MORE (Fla.).

The Democrats asked, among other things, for the names of Konkus’s clients.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment. But spokeswoman Liz Bowman told Greenwire, which first reported on Konkus’s outside employment, that it is above-board.

“As the letter states, EPA career ethics [employees] have reviewed and approved these opportunities,” she said.

At EPA, Knokus cannot participate in any matter that has a “direct and predictable financial effect” on his outside clients.

The Sierra Club said Konkus’s arrangement is corrupt.

“The American people already know that Scott Pruitt is working for corporate polluters and not for them, but the revelation that his staff is moonlighting for private clients while working at the EPA full time brings suspicions of pay to play to a whole new level,” Melinda Pierce, the group’s legislative director, said in a statement. “And if Konkus is not working for polluters directly, the public is forced to ask whether he is running a partisan political operation from within the agency instead.”