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 PalloneLawmakers call on Trump to keep tech legal shield out of trade talks Hillicon Valley: FTC fines Facebook B in privacy settlement | Critics pan settlement as weak | Facebook also faces FTC antitrust probe | Senate panel advances 'deepfakes' legislation | House passes anti-robocall bill House passes anti-robocall bill 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 PruittEnvironmentalists renew bid to overturn EPA policy barring scientists from advisory panels Six states sue EPA over pesticide tied to brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules 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 DeGetteHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Crucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — White House withdraws controversial rule to eliminate drug rebates | Grassley says deal on drug prices moving 'very soon' | Appeals court declines to halt Trump abortion referral ban MORE (Colo.), Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoHouse Democrats push automakers to rebuff Trump, join California's fuel efficiency deal Overnight Energy: Democrats seek help in appealing to conservatives on climate | Whistleblowers say Interior sidelined scientists | Automakers strike fuel efficiency deal with California in rebuff to Trump Interior whistleblowers say agency has sidelined scientists under Trump MORE (N.Y.) and Kathy CastorKatherine (Kathy) Anne CastorPelosi, Schumer invite US women's soccer team to Capitol Democrats grill Trump officials over fuel standard rollback Steyer group targeting 12 congressional Democrats over impeachment 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.”