House Oversight opens probe into EPA administrator’s ethics

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has opened an investigation into Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s compliance with an ethics law that requires officials to disclose all sources of money earned in an amount greater than $5,000 two years prior to holding an appointed position, according to a letter House Oversight chairman Elijah Cummings sent Wheeler.

Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, did not disclose that he previously lobbied for Darling Ingredients while working at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting on his financial disclosure forms, according to documents obtained by the committee.

The committee cited the lobbying firm Faegre’s quarterly disclosure forms to point out the omission in Wheeler’s financial disclosure report. Wheeler “engaged in lobbying activities on behalf of Darling” from April 2015 to May 2016, according to Faegre’s forms cited in the House letter to the EPA.

The EPA declined to comment on the committee’s request, stating they would respond to the committee through the “proper channels.”

The Oversight Committee claims this omission means that Wheeler violated the Ethics in Government Act, which requires federal officials to disclose all money earned in an amount greater than $5,000 in the two years before holding a government position.

Wheeler submitted his financial disclosure forms in August 2017 for the 2015 to 2017 period, with no mention of Darling Ingredients. The lobbying quarterly disclosure forms show that he worked on behalf of Darling in 2015 and 2016, according to the letter.

Wheeler held a meeting with Darling Ingredients on June 26, 2018, while he was serving as deputy administrator at the agency, according to his calendar, the letter states.

“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 service as a lobbyist during the period covered by your disclosure report,” the letter reads.

The committee initially requested documents regarding Wheeler’s lobbying work with Darling on Feb. 13. The EPA did not submit the documents in response to the committee’s request.

Instead, EPA Associate Administrator Troy Lyons responded to the committee on March 6 stating that Wheeler’s meeting with Darling in June 2018 had not violated Executive Order 13770, which prohibits federal officials from participating “in any particular matter” that is related to a former employer or former client for two years after being appointed to the government position. The EPA’s response did not mention potential violations of the Ethics in Government Act.

Wheeler joined the agency as deputy administrator but was appointed as administrator after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid a host of ethics controversies in July 2018. Wheeler was confirmed as the agency’s next administrator in February.

The committee asked the EPA to tell them whether or not they plan to comply with the document request by April 30.