Dems probing whether EPA officials violated ethics rules

Congressional Democrats are launching a probe into whether Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials scaled back regulations for air pollution to benefit former lobbying clients.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to a number of electric utilities and the lobbying firm Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP asking for documents tied to their work on rolling back the Clean Air Act (CAA), in an effort to determine whether the EPA officials violated ethics rules.

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William Wehrum and David Harlow previously worked as lobbyists for a group of utilities while at Hunton. Wehrum is now assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, and Harlow serves as senior counsel in that division. Both joined the agency during the Trump administration.

“We are concerned that two former employees of your firm — William Wehrum and David Harlow — may have violated federal ethics rules by helping reverse EPA’s position in ongoing litigation,” Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms House Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug Intercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum MORE (N.J.) wrote in a letter to Hunton that was also signed by Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoUsing shared principles to guide our global and national energy policy WHIP LIST: How House Democrats, Republicans say they'll vote on infrastructure bill Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (N.Y.) and Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteColorado remap plan creates new competitive district Overnight Health Care: WH says more than one million vaccine doses administered in 24 hours | Texas faces tipping point as COVID-19 spreads | House Democrats press insulin manufacturers for lower prices House members to urge FDA to remove in-person requirement for abortion medication MORE (Colo.).

The agency under President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE has rolled back a number of regulations that had long been targets of the coal industry and coal-reliant utilities.

“The Office of Air and Radiation’s agenda appears remarkably similar to the substantive agenda,” of the utilities, the Democrats wrote. “These allegations have raised substantial questions regarding whether Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Harlow are properly carrying out the CAA as directed by Congress or instead changing agency policies to benefit former clients.”

When asked for comment, an EPA spokesman said Wehrum and Harlow "have both been recused from all particular matters where DTE is a party," referring to DTE Energy, one of the several utilities contacted by House Democrats. The spokesman made no reference to the other companies that received letters.

Wehrum was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 in a 49-47 vote after questions were raised both about his lobbying career and his work at the EPA during the George W. Bush administration, when he held the same position that he does now.

Democrats said federal courts 27 times had overturned regulations Wehrum worked on during his prior EPA stint.

The focus on ethics issues comes in the wake of former EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Trump-era EPA board member sues over firing EPA bans use of pesticide linked to developmental problems in children MORE's resignation last year following numerous ethics scandals and investigations. His successor, Andrew Wheeler, has faced a number of questions over his past work as a coal lobbyist, and Interior secretary nominee David Bernhardt has faced allegations of continuing to work for past clients.

Updated at 3:42 p.m.