Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler hasn't even been on the job for a full month, and he's already facing a lawsuit from one of the nation's most prominent environmental groups and a call for an ethics probe, after it was reported that he has repeatedly violated vows to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
"It took coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler less than a month as acting EPA administrator to prove he can't and won't let go of his corporate polluter past."
—Melinda Pierce, Sierra ClubAccording to an E&E News review of public documents, Wheeler—a former coal lobbyist—has "had at least three meetings with former clients" and "attended other events that prominently included the head of a company he is currently prohibited from getting involved with" since being confirmed as deputy EPA administrator in April.
Citing E&E's report, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.)—the second ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the ranking member of its subcommittee on oversight—called on the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to open a probe into Wheeler's conduct.
"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 told the Huffington Post on Thursday. "If these reports are true, he did so repeatedly."
In a bid to find out more about Wheeler's meetings with industry insiders and other potential ethical transgressions, the Sierra Club this week sued the EPA for Wheeler's internal communications—an approach that elicited damning and often downright bizarre information from former EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who resigned in disgrace earlier this month.
"EPA hasn't made public the details of Wheeler's meetings with his former industry clients," Sierra Club attorney Elena Saxonhouse noted. "We asked for his calendars (and other docs) back in May through a FOIA request, but EPA didn't respond. So we sued."
— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) July 27, 2018
As the Washington Post reported on Friday, "Sierra Club filed an amendment to a lawsuit against the EPA in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, asking the agency to release yet more communications from EPA staff—including those, for the first time, from Wheeler... In total, the Sierra Club is seeking the records of 25 more staffers with its suit."
"It took coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler less than a month as acting EPA administrator to prove he can't and won't let go of his corporate polluter past," Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce said in a statement. "With each passing day, it has become more apparent that Wheeler is as ethically compromised as Scott Pruitt, disregarding ethics and conflict of interest concerns while meeting with big polluters and pushing their dirty policies. Meanwhile, the public interest is left behind in the smog produced by his dangerous agenda."
Since Pruitt's resignation earlier this month, Wheeler has picked up right where his predecessor left off by pursuing policies that reward big polluters while harming the planet and the public.
Thanks to an intervention by a federal court, Wheeler on Thursday was forced to back down from his agency's effort to grant a loophole to "super-polluting" trucks.
"Andrew Wheeler is losing even faster than disgraced former administrator Scott Pruitt," Sierra Club chief climate counsel Joanne Spalding declared in a statement. "Wheeler must come to the realization that he can't just change the rules for the corporate polluters he represented for so long, at the expense of public health."