Washington — Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler may have violated his ethics pledge by participating in matters on which he previously lobbied and by holding meetings with his previous clients, according to a complaint filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with the Office of the Inspector General at the EPA.As a condition of his appointment, Wheeler signed an ethics pledge barring him from participating for two years in any particular matter or specific issue area on which he lobbied within two years of his appointment. The pledge also prohibits Wheeler, who is being considered by the Senate this week as a nominee for the permanent administrator position, from participating in matters involving his previous clients. According to the complaint, Wheeler violated the pledge by participating in coal ash regulations and the Affordable Clean Energy rule as well as holding meetings with his former clients Darling Ingredients, Growth Energy, and the Archer Daniels Midland Company. Wheeler’s repeated participation in these meetings and regulatory actions also creates the appearance of a lack of impartiality that may have violated the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Executive Branch Employees.“Unfortunately, it seems that Acting Administrator Wheeler is continuing in the steps of his predecessor to further erode the commitment to ethical government within the EPA,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “After spending years as a lobbyist for coal and energy companies, Wheeler should have taken every measure possible to avoid even the appearance of impartiality at the EPA. He has not. His failure to abide by ethics obligations and to avoid the reality or appearance of conflicts critically undermines the EPA’s integrity and weakens public confidence in our government.”The complaint also points to evidence that Wheeler violated the Ethics in Government Act (EIGA) by failing to disclose Darling Ingredients as a former client on his OGE Form 278. CREW found that Darling paid $270,000 to Faegre, Wheeler’s former firm, for lobbying services between January 2015 and May 2016. Wheeler failed to disclose Darling on his OGE Form 278 despite being a registered lobbyist for the company. According to the EIGA, a filer may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $50,000 for knowingly failing to reported any required information.
CREW previously called on the Inspector General to investigate the inadequate handling of the many outrageous ethical issues that came to light under former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure.