Lawsuit: Trump's EPA Is Failing to Enforce Air Pollution Conflict-of-interest Rules in Alabama, Mississippi

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Robert Ukeiley, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 496-8568, rukeiley@biologicaldiversity.org, Caroline Cox, (510) 655-3900 x 308, Caroline@ceh.org, Melissa Williams, Sierra Club, (828) 545-0443, melissa.williams@sierraclub.org   

Lawsuit: Trump's EPA Is Failing to Enforce Air Pollution Conflict-of-interest Rules in Alabama, Mississippi

WASHINGTON - Conservation and public-health groups filed a lawsuit today to force the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that Alabama and Mississippi have measures prohibiting conflicts of interest on state boards overseeing air pollution permits. The two states have been violating conflict-of-interest requirements for nearly 40 years. 

“When it comes to the air we breathe, the EPA can’t let the fox guard the henhouse in these states,” said Robert Ukeiley, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s the agency’s job to make sure Alabama and Mississippi aren’t allowing special-interest groups to control air-pollution permitting decisions. Our clean air laws must be enforced by people who put public health before profits.”

Federal conflict of interest rules ensure that people who work for polluters are not making decisions about air-pollution permits and require that those rules are enforceable by the general public.

Today’s lawsuit follows President Trump’s problematic choice of Trey Glenn to head the EPA’s regional office for Alabama and Mississippi. During Glenn’s tenure leading the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, an Alabama ethics commission found that he violated ethics laws to get the job as well as to obtain gifts. Glenn accepted baseball tickets and trips to Disneyland from firms affiliated with the energy industry.

Alabama’s struggles with conflict-of-interest issues go back decades. In 1997 then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner wrote a letter acknowledging Alabama’s problems. In 2006 the state started the process of creating conflict-of-interest rules for those controlling air pollution protections but then dropped the effort, opening the door to the ethical problems during Glenn’s tenure.

“The people of Mississippi and Alabama deserve to know whether regulators approving pollution permits also receive paychecks from those polluters,” said Stephen Stetson, representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Alabama and Mississippi. “We shouldn’t have to wonder — the whole point of these rules is for the EPA to make sure proper oversight is in place, and they’ve failed at that important task.”

Mississippi recently took steps to change its rules about conflicts of interest after the same groups filing today’s lawsuit — the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health and Sierra Club — pointed out the violations in a legal notice to EPA chief Scott Pruitt. Mississippi still hasn’t formalized those rules to make them enforceable by the general public. 

“It’s impossible to know whether your state regulators have conflicts of interests if you’re not even looking,” said, Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “These rules are in place for very obvious reasons — you can’t have people with strong financial ties to polluters making calls on who’s polluting and who’s not. It’s a pretty simple principle.”

The Clean Air Act requires that states have plans in place to make sure a majority of members of any state board or body approving or enforcing federal air-pollution permits do not derive a significant portion of their income from individuals or companies seeking those permits or subject to enforcement orders.

The Act also requires that any potential conflicts of interest of state board members and heads of executive agencies be adequately disclosed.

Once the EPA finds that a state plan fails to meet these Clean Air Act requirements, the agency has two years to address the shortcomings. The agency has failed to meet that deadline for both Alabama and Mississippi.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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