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Dems seek probe into EPA head’s meetings with former clients

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Washington, July 27, 2018 | comments
The Hill

A group of House Democrats is calling for the government’s ethics office to investigate acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Andrew Wheeler's meetings with former lobbying clients.

Democratic Reps. Don Beyer (Va.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Jamie Raskin (Md.) want the Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether the meetings, first reported Thursday by E&E News, violated ethics standards.

“Andrew Wheeler is the Acting Administrator of the EPA because of the departure of Administrator Scott Pruitt, which occurred under a cloud of ethical controversy and scandal that tarnished the reputation of the Agency,” the Democrats wrote in a Friday letter to the ethics office.

“That context, Wheeler's past work as a coal lobbyist, and the many conflicts of interest which that work naturally presents to his leadership of the EPA demand that his meetings and communications be carefully scrutinized so that he is held to the highest ethical standard.”

Wheeler’s public calendars show that he met with representatives of Darling Ingredients, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and spoke at an event that included the head of International Paper Co., in the time between when he became EPA’s deputy administrator in April and when he took over as acting administrator this month.

Wheeler lobbied for the companies in his previous role at Faegre Baker Daniels.

Justina Fugh, the EPA’s No. 2 ethics official, to The Hill earlier Friday that none of the encounters violated President Trump’s ethics pledge or other ethical standards.

Fugh said Darling, Archer Daniels Midland and the South Coast Air Quality Management District didn’t count as “former clients” for ethics purposes because Wheeler’s work for them stopped more than two years before he came to the EPA. International Paper counts as a client, but since other entities were represented at the event where he spoke, he didn’t violate the pledge, Fugh said.

But the Democrats’ letter Friday points to a congressional disclosure form saying that Wheeler lobbied for Darling during the period that ended May 2016. His representation may have crossed into the two-year window before his April start at the EPA, they said, which would prohibit him from meeting with the company until April 2019.

In addition to the standard ethics agreements, Wheeler told Bloomberg News in June that he’d avoid meeting with clients he’d lobbied for previously.

“If I lobbied on something, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to participate,” he said.

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