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: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report EPA asked to justify proposal to limit power of its science advisers 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 DeGetteHillicon Valley: Dems cancel surveillance vote after pushback to amendments | Facebook to ban certain coronavirus ads | Lawmakers grill online ticketing execs | Hacker accessed facial recognition company's database Trump names Pence to lead coronavirus response Hillicon Valley: Democrats cancel surveillance vote over pushback to amendments | Lawmakers grill Ticketmaster, StubHub execs over online ticketing | MORE (Colo.), Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoDemocrat: Lawmakers need to approach opioid crisis as 'a chronic situation' The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders takes incoming during intense SC debate Overnight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills MORE (N.Y.) and Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorM ad buy praises swing-district Democrats' environmental work Hillicon Valley: Twitter to let users report election misinformation | Dem offers updates to child privacy rules | ACLU pushes back on Puerto Rico online voting proposal Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to increase minors' online protection 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.”