Greendoggle? EPA Privately Discussed How to Spend $20B With a Few Favorite Environmental Groups
- September 21, 2023
With this much money, EPA can’t afford appearance of impropriety. Nor can taxpayers.
In May 2023 Protect the Public’s Trust noted that the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to spend its $20 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) – a gift of the “Inflation Reduction Act”— by distributing it to between four and 10 select nonprofit organizations. Those groups would further dispense the money in the form of grants for green energy projects. At that time, PPT Director Michael Chamberlain noted the ethical concerns with this arrangement and said, “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.”
The awardees have not been announced yet, but emails obtained by PPT via Freedom of Information Act request show that the EPA invited a group of environmental activist organizations and thinktanks to a November 2022 meeting to “provide early feedback on the RFI and ask clarifying questions.” With both the public comment period and the window for submitting applications open until October 2023, this invitation is highly irregular. And, as PPT foresaw, several groups with ties to EPA officials are on the invitation list.
Prior to joining EPA, current officials have worked for or with the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council, and Earthjustice, as well as the Center for American Progress, and other activist organizations. As PPT recently noted, the EPA “revolving door” has been spinning fast during the Biden administration, greased by career ethics personnel.
The sheer size of the awards – $2 billion to $5 billion each (for comparison, “intermediate” sized banks have a capitalization of around $2.5 billion, according to the government) — and political appointees’ ties to some potential awardees should have agency officials at pains to ensure there is no appearance of impropriety. The distribution of such a large sum of taxpayer dollars to a small number of non-governmental organizations for the purpose of then further awarding it as they see fit has the potential to circumvent traditional guardrails on government contracting, award monitoring, records retention, ethics restrictions, and other anti-waste, fraud, and abuse restrictions built into the federal awards process. None of these concerns appear to have factored heavily into behind-the-scenes conversations between EPA and the special interest NGOs who appear to be at the front of the “Green Bank” line.
“Whatever you think about the policy, any agency disbursing $20 billion in taxpayer funds should have the humility to ensure that the process is above question,” said Protect the Public’s Trust Director Chamberlain. “Holding a chummy meeting with special interest organizations with deep connections to political leadership isn’t a good look. As PPT has shown time and again, EPA ethics under this administration have been extremely lax – particularly when it comes to the ‘revolving door’ between many of these same environmental groups and the agency. The result is that the American public has little trust that their money won’t be going to benefit friends and cronies of agency appointees with little to no oversight.”