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 PalloneNRC eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors Democratic chair: Medicare negotiating drug prices not moving before August Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid MORE (N.J.) wrote in a letter to Hunton that was also signed by Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: EPA expands use of pesticide it considers 'highly toxic' to bees | House passes defense bill with measure targeting 'forever chemicals' | Five things to watch as Barry barrels through the Gulf House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Scientific integrity is crumbling under Trump MORE (N.Y.) and Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteCrucial 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 Overnight Energy: Top EPA official stepping down amid ethics probe | Critics slam EPA for rolling back union protections | Trump officials open door to controversial Alaska mining project MORE (Colo.).

The agency under President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist 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: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits 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.