EPA’s New R&D Head Finally Resigns from Chinese Government Post

EPA’s New R&D Head Finally Resigns from Chinese Government Post

  • June 6, 2022

Newly confirmed nominee had been allowed to continue employment relationship with Chinese government while working at the agency

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust applauded the resignation, according to a media report, of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) newly confirmed Assistant Administrator for Research and Development Christopher Frey from his position with an institution that is an instrumentality of the Chinese government. While this is a positive step, many questions regarding EPA’s handling of this episode remain.

PPT first exposed Dr. Frey’s employment relationship with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) last August. Documents obtained by the watchdog in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed that he was allowed to merely take a leave of absence from HKUST while working at EPA, rather than being forced to resign this post. During the process of providing guidance to Dr. Frey, EPA ethics officials noted a Department of Justice interpretation in which the default is to consider such relationships akin to working for a foreign government. The university’s own Ordinance and Statutes assign the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, a post filled by Beijing, as HKUST’s Chancellor. A national security law passed by China in 2020 erased any meaningful distinction between mainland Chinese authority and the once-semi-autonomous island of Hong Kong. Yet, EPA’s response to media inquiries about Dr. Frey’s relationship failed to distinguish between domestic institutions and those connected to hostile regimes.

Members of the House Oversight Committee also raised questions about Dr. Frey’s ties to this arm of the Chinese government. In October, he pledged to resign from HKUST if confirmed, an action he reiterated during questioning at a confirmation hearing and has apparently followed through on.

His resignation comes at a notable time, as this past weekend marked the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the Chinese government brutally cracked down on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, possibly killing thousands. Commemoration of the anniversary was banned in Hong Kong this year and several people were arrested near the park where Hong Kong residents had held candlelight vigils in the past. This ban is the culmination of steps Chinese authorities have ratcheted up since the enactment of the 2020 security law to suppress any commemoration of the massacre.

“While Protect the Public’s Trust is pleased that Dr. Frey honored his promise to resign from HKUST, we are still concerned about the conduct of EPA leadership during this incident,” declared Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Perhaps most troubling is that EPA appears to see no difference between a university in North Carolina and one that serves as an arm of a hostile foreign regime such as Russia, Iran, or China. EPA’s handling of this matter represents another brick in the wall of the public’s plummeting trust in its government.”