Watchdog files ethics complaint against EPA head

Watchdog files ethics complaint against EPA head
© Anna Moneymaker

A government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Tuesday over meetings held with past fossil fuel clients after he took over the agency.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), in a letter to the EPA's acting inspector general, asked the office to investigate whether Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, violated his ethics pledge.

Specifically, the group asked the office to look into two 2018 meetings with former clients Darling Ingredients, Inc., Growth Energy, and the Archer Daniels Midland Company, during his two-year recusal period.

CREW also questioned whether Wheeler was right to participate in the rulemaking process for several EPA standards over which he had previously lobbied the agency. Those regulations include the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule, the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

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“Mr. Wheeler’s involvement in these matters also gives rise to the appearance of a lack of impartiality, which critically undermines the agency’s integrity in carrying out these programs and operations," the CREW letter read. "As a result, unless he was authorized to participate, his involvement violated his ethical obligations under the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (“Standards of Conduct”).”

Before being sworn in as deputy EPA administrator in April, Wheeler signed an ethics pledge that prohibited him from participating “in any particular matter involving specific parties” that is directly and substantially related to his or her former employer or former clients for two years after appointment.”

Wheeler became acting administrator in July following former EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE’s resignation. Trump formally nominated Wheeler to be EPA administrator last week.

An EPA spokesperson denied the accusations.

“All of these baseless accusations are wrong. Acting Administrator Wheeler works closely with career EPA ethics officials and follows their guidance. This is nothing more than a last second political stunt by a group to try to attack President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE’s nominee hours before his confirmation hearing and should be recognized as such.”

Wheeler will begin his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill tomorrow, testifying in front of the Senate Energy and Public Works Committee.