Top EPA political staffer leaves agency for coal lobby

Top EPA political staffer leaves agency for coal lobby

One of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) highest ranking political appointees is leaving the agency to work for the nation’s top coal mining advocate.

Ryan Jackson, chief of staff to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight 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 Overnight Energy: Green group sues Trump over major environmental rollback | New fuel efficiency standard could take months to complete | Trump unveils picks for EPA, Energy deputies MORE, will be a lobbyist for the National Mining Association, according to reporting from Bloomberg and other outlets late Thursday.

The move drew criticism from environmental groups that have long argued the Trump administration EPA has been a revolving door as high-level employees go back and forth between the agency and the industries it regulates.

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“Same job, higher paycheck,” the Sierra Club tweeted of the move Friday morning.

"Considering that he already works for a top coal lobbyist — EPA chief Andrew Wheeler, who’s gone from lobbying in the private sector to helping President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE roll back clean-air regulations — the on-boarding process at his new employer should be a breeze,” Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement.  

"But long-term job growth opportunities might be grim working for an industry in a death spiral.” 

The EPA did not immediately respond to request for comment. 

The Trump administration has issued several rules that benefit the coal mining industry, chief of which is the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which lifts restrictions on coal-fired power plants.

Jackson was under investigation by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) for his suspected involvement in the destruction of important documents related to a number of issues that should have been retained. Another investigation centered around whether Jackson interfered with testimony another EPA employee was set to give Congress. 

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The investigation concluded in December, with OIG concluding that EPA's ethics training "does not address interfering with or intimidating individuals who communicate with or testify before Congress." 

Jackson had refused to answer some questions or sit down for an additional interview with investigators. 

“Will I say where I got it from? No," he said in an Oct. 3 interview, referring to an advanced copy of testimony designated for lawmakers that he had obtained.

In an email a few weeks later reviewing his refusal to sit down again with investigators, he wrote, “I am not going to involve others or point fingers.”

The acrimonious nature of that investigation spilled into the public after the OIG sent a letter to Congress to alert lawmakers they were being stonewalled by Jackson.

“Mr. Jackson's cooperation has been patiently sought multiple times over protracted periods by OIG auditors and investigators. Auditors asked of him merely a brief email reply. Investigators requested to interview him. Both matters, after Mr. Jackson's repeated delays and refusals, were elevated, in writing, to you and/or other senior agency leaders in a final hope for cooperation,” then-OIG head Charles Sheehan wrote to Wheeler in a letter that outlined attempts to contact both Jackson and the administrator himself. 

Sheehan informed Congress just two weeks ago that OIG now considered the matter resolved after Jackson agreed to an interview, dropping his earlier request that he be accompanied by agency counsel and receive the questions in advance. 

'We have no need for an additional interview and now consider the [chief of staff's] cooperation with regard to the investigation to be complete--though far from fulfilling the [Inspector General] Act's requirement of "timely" cooperation," Sheehan wrote to lawmakers on January 16. 

Updated at 2:46 p.m.