Watchdog group requests ethics probe for head of EPA's air office

Watchdog group requests ethics probe for head of EPA's air office
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A government watchdog group on Wednesday requested an investigation into the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air office, arguing the Trump appointee violated an ethics pledge by meeting with former clients.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against Bill Wehrum, a former lobbyist who returned to the EPA during the Trump administration to fill the same role he held under former President George W. Bush.

CREW argues in its complaint that Wehrum failed to get any of the necessary ethics waivers before taking such meetings and that his explanations for doing so “misconstrues the requirements of the ethics pledge and fails to address the distinct recusal obligations under his ethics agreement.”

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“Mr. Wehrum seems not to appreciate that his recusal is intended to protect against representatives of special interests trading on their relationships with him to gain special access to the levers of power that affect all Americans,” the group wrote in the letter.

EPA’s Office of Inspector General said they have received the complaint and will review it.

James Hewitt, an EPA spokesman, said the CREW letter “repeats previous allegations that has been made public by the press. Mr. Wehrum has pledged to work with ethics officials to continue ensure compliance going forward.”

Wehrum has been dogged by reports that he met with former clients from his work as a lobbyist for Hunton & Williams LLP, from giving a talk at the firm after joining the administration to working on a policy memo that stood to benefit a former utility client.

Democrats have requested similar probes into Wehrum: one would look at Wehrum’s involvement in a memo that reversed the EPA’s position in litigation against DTE Energy Company, which was represented by Hunton, and another would investigate Wehrum’s ethics and recusal obligations more broadly.

“The Office of Air and Radiation’s agenda appears remarkably similar to the substantive agenda,” of several utilities, a trio of House Democrats wrote in a request to the inspector general in April.

EPA has repeatedly said that Wehrum has recused himself from all matters where DTE is a party, though the allegations against Wehrum involve a number of other utilities.

Other EPA officials have also been flagged for investigation by Democratic lawmakers. Earlier this month, three Senate Democrats requested an investigation into Elizabeth "Tate" Bennett, arguing she violated her ethics pledge.