Overnight Energy: Six Interior officials under ethics investigation | EPA chief failed to disclose former lobbying client | Greens ask Wheeler to back up claim that climate change is '50 to 75 years out'
SIX INTERIOR OFFICIALS UNDER ETHICS INVESTIGATION: The Interior Department’s top watchdog is investigating six agency officials for potential ethics violations.
The Interior Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has launched a probe into the half-dozen high-ranking agency officials for continued close ties to former employers, including an energy company and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The background: The investigation follows a February request from the Campaign Legal Center, a political action group, to investigate the various Interior staffers for failing to adhere to their government ethics pledge.
Under the pledge, the employees agreed to refrain from matters involving former employers or clients. Full-time political appointees cannot participate for two years in matters linked to their former positions. The pledge is considered enforceable under the law.
“Several political appointees at Interior appear to have violated these provisions, which are specifically designed to prevent public officials from using their positions to favor former employers or lobbying clients,” the Campaign Legal Center wrote.
“Taken together, the violations outlined below suggest a disturbing pattern of misconduct across the Department of the Interior that warrants your office’s immediate attention.”
The legal center announced Tuesday that the OIG committed last week to investigate the employees.
An OIG spokesperson confirmed the ongoing investigation.
The reaction: A spokesperson for the Interior Department said, “as a general rule, we do not comment on specific personnel matters.”
“The Department takes ethics issues seriously. The Office of the Secretary immediately consulted with the Department Ethics Office after receiving the subject complaints. Ethics reviewed each matter, and provided materials to the Chief of Staff, who has taken appropriate actions. All of these materials have been provided to the Inspector General.”
The officials: Employees under investigation include Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular and international affairs and the former director for the Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Benjamin Cassidy, Interior’s senior deputy director for intergovernmental and external affairs, who previously was a NRA lobbyist.
Read more on the investigation here.
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ANDREW WHEELER FAILED TO DISCLOSE FORMER LOBBYING CLIENT: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler left a former lobbying client off of his financial disclosure documents, according to a new letter from House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsWhite House moves to block official from congressional testimony despite subpoena The Hill’s Morning Report – Dem candidates sell policy as smart politics On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn’t want ‘pay cut’ | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle MORE (D-Md.).
Wheeler did not list Darling Ingredients, a company that supplies ingredients for products ranging from fertilizers to fuel to pet and livestock food, when he first came to the EPA in 2018.
However, Wheeler’s former employer, lobbying group Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, showed that Wheeler lobbied on behalf of Darling in 2015 and 2016.
“These documents indicate that you may have improperly omitted Darling from your financial disclosure, and they raise concerns that you may have failed to identify other clients who paid for your services as a lobbyist during the period covered by your disclosure report,” Cummings wrote in the letter, which was also signed by Rep. Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaOvernight Energy: Greenhouse gas reductions slow in 2017 | Dems request more funds for Interior FOIA office | Europe turning to Russia for oil amid US sanctions Dems request more funds to beef up Interior FOIA office Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick’s lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US MORE (D-Calif.).
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal law requires officials to disclose any client over the past two years that paid them more than $5,000, and Wheeler’s compensation topped that amount by about $300 in 2015. Those figures were supplied by Darling Industries in response to a request by the committee.
Wheeler has also met with representatives from Darling Industries during his time at the EPA, something an agency lawyer said did not violate ethics laws.
Wheeler, who lobbied for a number of industries regulated by the EPA prior to joining the agency first as its deputy administrator, has long been criticized by Democrats for those ties.
Read more here.
And there’s more Wheeler news…
EPA ASKED TO BACK CLAIM THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS ’50 TO 75 YEARS OUT’: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler is being asked to back up recent claims that climate change consequences are still “50 to 75 years out.”
In a freedom of information request filed by the Sierra Club late Monday, the conservation group requested the EPA turn over any documents that support Wheeler’s assertion.
Wheeler’s comments came in an interview with CBS, when he told the network’s Major Garrett that he would be focused on pressing issues like access to clean water since “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”
The pushback: Climate scientists armed with government research, however, are finding that climate change is having a much more immediate impact. The Sierra Club argues the dangers from climate change are fast-approaching and that Wheeler’s remark to Garrett has no basis.
“We are confident that EPA’s response to this request will reveal that Wheeler’s assertion was unsupported by science and is inconsistent with the research and conclusions of the U.S. government’s career scientists,” Matthew Miller, a Sierra Club attorney, said in a release.
The group points to a number of ways the planet is currently impacted by global warming, ranging from wildfires to ailing coral reefs to record-breaking weather events.
EPA’s response: EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said government experts often measure climate change over decades, rather than year-by-year, adding: “Administrator Wheeler has continued to emphasize the Trump EPA’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
If this sounds familiar…: Similar information requests proved successful during former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide Court orders EPA to make final decision on banning controversial pesticide Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt registers as lobbyist in Indiana MORE‘s tenure.
Pruitt, in a television appearance in March of 2017, disagreed that humans were a “primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
He did not back his reasoning with science, according to internal documents provided following a lawsuit won by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in June of last year.
More on the climate controversy here.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
New Mexico utility says it will be emissions-free by 2040, the Associated Press reports.
Two more key climate-change bills pass in Olympia, head to Washington Gov. Inslee’s desk, The Seattle Times reports
Feds stack Bears Ears advisory group with critics of southern Utah monument, The Salt Lake Tribune reports
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Stories from Tuesday…
-EPA administrator failed to disclose former lobbying client
-Six Interior officials under ethics investigation
-Kudlow: US sanctions on Iran oil had ‘no material impact’ on markets
-EPA head asked to back up claim that climate change is ’50 to 75 years out’
-Milwaukee Brewers announce ban on plastic straws at Miller Park on Earth Day
-Greenland ice sheet melting six times faster than it was in the ’80s: study
-NHL to purchase carbon offsets to counter playoff travel