EPA Proposal to Distribute Funds from $20 Billion Program Raises Ethics Concerns

EPA Proposal to Distribute Funds from $20 Billion Program Raises Ethics Concerns

  • May 5, 2023
Agency ditches plan for National Green Bank in favor of funneling money through nonprofits

Today, ethics watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust called attention to the Biden Administration’s latest proposal to hand out $27 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). The original plan was to create a single national green bank for the Fund. Now, however, the administration is proposing to distribute $20 billion among select nonprofit entities. But high-level EPA officials have close ties to numerous non-profits that may be in line to receive funding, raising concerns about the influence of these special interests and the potential for conflicts of interest to arise.

EPA’s April 19 announcement detailed the implementation framework for the GGRF, authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The original plan consisted of a single “National Green Bank” responsible for funding local organizations capable of financing clean energy projects. However, according to its latest announcement EPA will not implement a national green bank. Instead, EPA will deploy $20 billion in “general” funding to a number of nonprofits that will disburse the funds and may also engage with coalitions including other nonprofits. Several political appointees within the EPA have close ties to such organizations as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, U.S. Water Alliance, Sierra Club, and the Conservation Law Foundation and other organizations that could be candidates for funding, if not directly then as subgrantees or as part of a coalition.

Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox was previously the CEO of the U.S. Water Alliance. EPA official Alejandra Nunez was a senior attorney with Sierra Club until joining the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR). In his signed recusal statement, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Stationary Sources Tomas Elias Carbonell was forced to recuse himself from matters involving the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. Another OAR employee, Cynthia Giles, was employed in the Conservation Law Foundation’s Advocacy Center earlier in her career. These are just a few examples.

The revolving door between these prominent environmental groups and EPA officials, both current and former, is well documented. Former EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz, for example, accepted a job at Sierra Club upon departing the EPA after a video “became public showing him telling an environmental group about his preference for ‘crucifying’ fossil fuel industry representatives.”

The proposed changes in this program are merely the latest concerns about ethics and potential conflicts at EPA. “Long-stalled” nominee for OAR head, Joseph Goffman, may be emblematic of the agency’s lax approach to ethics. PPT’s FOIA requests alone have exposed more than 100 pages of email communications between Goffman and his former colleagues at Harvard University. He has also “disclosed a possible ethics violation,” after a colleague warned him that he likely crossed the line. PPT has filed multiple complaints regarding Goffman’s interactions with his former employer.

As GGRF dollars are announced, PPT will be watching to see whether entities connected to senior EPA officials are selected. A lengthy but incomplete list of non-profit entities associated with Biden EPA officials is made available below.

“In light of the extensive ties of high-ranking EPA political appointees to powerful nonprofit organizations, the American public is justified to be wary about the potential for conflicts to arise,” Protect the Public’s Trust Director Michael Chamberlain says. “Shifting the distribution system of $20 billion to nonprofits, with the possibility that some of those tied to agency officials may end up being among them, heightens concerns by orders of magnitude. We will be paying close attention as the EPA announces these awards to monitor if any former employers or clients of senior EPA officials are included in awards, subawards, or coalitions.”


American Flood Coalition
American Forests
Aspen Institute, Inc.
Center for American Progress
Center for Applied Environmental Law and Policy
Community Forklift
Conservation Law Foundation
Deep South Center for Environmental Justice
Democracy Forward
Democracy Forward Foundation
End Citizens United
Energy Foundation
Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Law and Policy Center
Environmental Law Institute
Everytown for Gun Safety
Fund for New Jersey
Fund for the Public Interest, Inc.
Green America
Health Effects Institute
Hub Project
Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel
Jobs to Move America
King Center for Nonviolent Social Change
Learning Opportunities for Colorado Kids
Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation
Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
National Conference of Bar Examiners
National Legal Aide and Defenders Association
Natural Resources Defense Council
Nature Conservancy
New Venture Fund
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
Partnership Project
Prevention Institute
Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center
Sierra Club
Trust for Governor’s Island
U.S. Water Alliance
Water Foundation
Water Institute of the Gulf