Dem senators call for probe into EPA officials over memo language

Dem senators call for probe into EPA officials over memo language
© Getty

Two Democratic senators are calling for another probe into the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air office after comments from an old lobbying client were incorporated verbatim in an EPA memo.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bipartisan framework remains mostly consistent on climate MORE (D-Del.) and Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLobbying world Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers blast FBI's Kavanaugh investigation as 'sham' MORE (D-R.I.) have requested an investigation of EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum and his deputy chief David Harlow, both former lobbyists for Hunton Andrews Kurth.

Both men signed a pledge to recuse themselves from dealing with former clients, but Whitehouse and Carper think those pledges may have been violated.


Clients at Hunton included the Air Permitting Forum, a coalition based at the firm that may include former clients of Wehrum and Harlow. Though the men have recused themselves from clients, they do not appear to have recused themselves from dealing with the forum.

“These groups are just another avenue for industry to surreptitiously exert its influence over EPA,” the senators wrote in a release. “Clearly there is a systemic issue at the EPA Office of Air and Radiation. There appears to be no end to the sham associations housed at Bill Wehrum and David Harlow’s former law firm that now have a direct line to power.”

That is apparent, they argue, because of a 2017 EPA memo that was issued just months after then-Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Saluting FOIA on its birthday Watchdog found EPA employees kept on payroll by Trump appointees after they were fired: report MORE called for input on what EPA regulations should be repealed.

The Air Permitting Forum responded to that call, arguing that companies should only be held responsible for pollution for which they are the predominant cause.

Identical text was used just a few months later in a memo that reversed the EPA’s position in litigation against DTE Energy Company, one of Harlow’s clients while employed at Hunton.

Wehrum was similarly accused of borrowing language from industry when he worked at the EPA under the George W. Bush administration.

EPA brushed off Whitehouse and Carper’s continued calls for investigation.

“Bill Wehrum and David Harlow are not aware of billing any hours to Air Permitting Forum. The Air Permitting Forum is not a former client of either Mr. Wehrum or Mr. Harlow.  Neither Mr. Wehrum nor Mr. Harlow were involved in the development of the Air Permitting Forum’s May 15th comments,” an EPA spokesman said in a statement. “Since Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Harlow started at EPA they have both been recused from all particular matters where DTE is a party.”

In March, the senators, alongside House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneIntercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 House Democrats criticize Texas's 'shortcomings in preparations' on winter storms MORE (D-N.J.), called for an investigation into whether the two men were using their positions at EPA to benefit DTE. They have not heard back from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General.

House Democrats made a similar request in April.

A spokesman for the Office of Inspector General said they are carefully reviewing the requests.