Watchdog Sues EPA Over its Lack of Transparency

Watchdog Sues EPA Over its Lack of Transparency

  • February 4, 2022

PPT seeks records around EPA leadership’s interactions with powerful special interests

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced it filed a federal lawsuit to enforce two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The lawsuits involve FOIA requests regarding meetings and communications with appointees’ former employers and other powerful special interest groups whose policy agendas have seen significant progress in the Biden Administration. Federal ethics laws and the Biden Ethics Pledge prohibit appointees from participating in certain matters and most communications with former employers.

Documents from previous FOIA requests filed by Protect the Public’s Trust with EPA revealed not only extensive recusal obligations required of many high-ranking officials at the agency but at least one incident that prompted a request for an ethics investigation. In that incident, a high-ranking political appointee engaged in an admitted ethics violation regarding a former employer and requested that the agency’s head ethics official “unring the bell” of his violation. PPT filed a subsequent complaint with the agency’s Inspector General.

The volume of potential conflicts of interest and “overlap of recusals” involving EPA officials resulted in the agency granting more waivers to federal ethics laws and the President’s ethics pledge in the first year of the current administration than during the entirety of the previous administration, according to information from the Office of Government Ethics and a project tracking such waivers. EPA leadership also permitted a high-level appointee to maintain his employment relationship with an instrumentality of the Chinese government while working at the agency. After PPT and a House Oversight Committee raised questions regarding the propriety of this decision, the EPA official pledged to resign from the Chinese university position upon Senate confirmation.

“The relationships between EPA leadership and wealthy and powerful special interest groups, many of which have been involved in a significant amount of litigation against the agency and robust regulatory agendas, create a web of potential conflicts,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said. “Yet, even with the tremendous potential for conflicts, EPA has not only failed to live up to their legal obligations but also to their self-created timelines when it comes to providing transparency around such relationships. Is it any wonder the American public’s trust in their government is at an all-time low?”