Sens. Tom Carper, D-Delaware; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, on May 17 sent a letter along with a detailed timeline to the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General requesting an investigation into the potential ethical violations of EPA Associate Administrator Elizabeth “Tate” Bennett.
According to public information, within weeks of her start at EPA, Bennett met with her previous employer — the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association — about media strategy surrounding an event with then-Administrator Scott Pruitt and facilitated a meeting about an ongoing EPA enforcement matter affecting a NRECA-represented electric utility. The EPA also appeared to conceal the details of the meeting from public view.
The senators are asking the EPA IG to examine this matter because this intervention by Bennett into the matters of a former employer appears to be in violation of the Office of Government Ethics’ “impartiality rule.” This rule states that officials with a “covered relationship” — such as persons who had lead an organization within the past year — should not participate in matters affecting this entity “unless s/he has informed the agency designee of the appearance problem and received authorization from the agency designee.”
“Publicly available facts show that within weeks of starting at EPA, Ms. Bennett participated in undisclosed meetings with her former employer, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, facilitated and participated in substantive conversations between NRECA and EPA regarding issues of interest to NRECA, and facilitated and participated in substantive conversations regarding an electric generation facility in Missouri owned by one of NRECA’s member companies, Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., that is subject to an EPA environmental enforcement action,” the senators wrote.
“EPA officials also appear to have taken efforts to conceal several aspects of the April 20 site visit and follow up from public view. Recent reporting and emails produced by EPA under FOIA identified several meetings during the April 20 trip to Missouri that did not appear on Pruitt’s public calendars or his calendars released through FOIA,” the senators continued.
The full text of the letter is available at 8bit.ly/2HsfIj2, and a PDF of the letter and the timeline is available at bit.ly/2HuoPQs.