After less than a month on the job, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acting administrator Andrew Wheeler is already facing a call for an ethics investigation into allegations that he met with former lobbying clients when he was serving as deputy administrator.
Wheeler, a long-time coal and industry lobbyist, met with former clients at least three times after being sworn in as deputy EPA administrator on April 20, E&E News reported Thursday. The meetings appear to break promises Wheeler made to avoid conflicts of interest. They also may violate the Trump administration’s ethics pledge, which Wheeler signed.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) on Friday led a group of House Democrats in sending a letter to the Office of Government Ethics asking it to conduct an investigation to determine whether Wheeler violated his ethics pledge. Beyer is the second-ranking Democrat on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the ranking member of its subcommittee on oversight.
The House members asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate Wheeler’s involvement with past lobbying clients to determine whether his previous meetings may have violated his ethics pledge. They also asked the Office of Government Ethics to clarify which clients — and which regulatory matters affecting them — merit future recusals by the office in order to comply with the ethics rules.
“Andrew Wheeler is the Acting Administrator of the EPA because of the departure of Administrator Scott Pruitt, which occurred under a cloud of ethical controversy and scandal that tarnished the reputation of the Agency,” the letter states. “That context, Wheeler’s past work as a coal lobbyist, and the many conflicts of interest which that work naturally presents to his leadership of the EPA demand that his meetings and communications be carefully scrutinized so that he is held to the highest ethical standard.”
Along with Beyer, the letter was signed by Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD).
President Donald Trump on July 5 named Wheeler to serve as acting administrator of the agency, replacing Pruitt, who at the time of his resignation was facing more than a dozen investigations.
Wheeler pledged to avoid his former clients for two years — until April 20, 2020 — or only meet with them in large settings. “I will not for a period of two years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients,” says the Trump ethics pledge Wheeler signed upon taking office.
Wheeler’s public calendar, however, shows he participated in a “stakeholder meeting” with Darling Ingredients, a former Wheeler client, on June 26. The biodiesel producer paid Wheeler’s firm more than $1.4 million over nine years for his and the firm’s lobbying services.
He also had a May 24 stakeholder meeting with Archer Daniels Midland Co., which paid Wheeler’s former lobbying firm more than $5,000 in 2017 for his “strategic advice and consulting.” Another stakeholder meeting was held on June 22 with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), a California regulatory agency that paid Wheeler’s firm at least $600,000 for lobbying between 2010 and 2012, E&E News reported.
“As a former coal lobbyist, and as the successor to scandal-tarred Scott Pruitt, Andrew Wheeler should know better than to break his ethics pledge,” Beyer said Friday in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “If these reports are true, he did so repeatedly. This is a matter which the Office of Government Ethics should examine.”
Wheeler did not personally provide any services to Archer Daniels Midland, Darling Ingredients, or SCAQMD for two years prior to joining the EPA, an agency spokesperson said Friday in an email to ThinkProgress. By not lobbying on behalf of these companies within two years of joining the EPA, these former clients are outside of the scope of the Trump ethics pledge, the spokesperson said.
In June, Wheeler told Bloomberg News that he would try to avoid meetings with clients he’s lobbied for before. “If I lobbied on something, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to participate,” he said.