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 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.) wrote in a letter to Hunton that was also signed by Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoThe Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday Overnight Health Care: Americans with coronavirus reportedly flown home over CDC advice | Dem fight over 'Medicare for All' heats up at debate | House to vote next week on flavored vaping ban The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats duke it out during Nevada debate MORE (N.Y.) and Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteOvernight Energy: Panel gives chairman power to subpoena Interior | House passes bill to protect wilderness | House Republicans propose carbon capture bill | Ocasio-Cortez introduces bill to ban fracking House passes Protecting America's Wilderness Act Vaping execs tell lawmakers that e-cigarettes are not meant for young people MORE (Colo.).

The agency under President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff 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: 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'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.