Energy & Environment

EPA official delayed recusal on key health study for ex-employer: report

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An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official who used to work for Koch Industries continued to weigh in on agency deliberations on formaldehyde despite promises to recuse himself given his work for a major producer of the substance, Politico reported Thursday. 

An EPA health assessment of formaldehyde, which is used in many construction materials, was expected to show that breathing the substance could lead to leukemia and other health problems. But that assessment was dropped, alongside those for nine other chemicals.

Emails show David Dunlap, who leads the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, continued to participate in conversations about formaldehyde despite his previous ties to companies that produce it, and despite alerting ethics officials he planned to recuse himself, according to documents Politico obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Dunlap did eventually sign a recusal statement, though it was filed the same day EPA officially blocked the formaldehyde review. 

“The timing of this doesn’t pass the sniff test,” Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, told Politico. “It really does appear he wanted to weigh in on the formaldehyde issue for as long as he could.” 

Democrats have already asked EPA’s ethics officials to evaluate whether Dunlap violated his recusal given his involvement in the process.

“Although not required by federal ethics law or regulation, Mr. Dunlap voluntarily recused himself from participating in matters related to the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment on formaldehyde, which is not a specific party matter and therefore not subject to the terms of the Trump Ethics Pledge. Nevertheless, to avoid even the appearance of any loss of impartiality, Mr. Dunlap chose to recuse himself given his previous involvement in this issue while with his former employer,” EPA spokesman Michael Abboud told The Hill.

The decision to limit the study of the health effects of formaldehyde and nine other chemicals is also under scrutiny from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. 

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas.), the committee chairwoman, has previously chastised the agency, accusing it of slow-walking most responses since she took the committee gavel in January.

That could result in a subpoena.

Johnson sent a letter in July saying EPA’s failure to provide requested information to her committee represented an “obstruction of Congress.” She threatened “compulsory measures” if the EPA didn’t provide previously requested information by July and August deadlines, a timeline that has since passed, a senior committee staffer told The Hill earlier this week.

Updated at 1:50 p.m.

Tags Eddie Bernice Johnson Environmental Protection Agency EPA Formaldehyde

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