EPA appointee gets approval to consult for outside clients

A key aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been granted permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret.

A letter approving outside employment contracts for John Konkus — signed by an EPA ethics lawyer in August — was released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The ethics official noted that Konkus’ outside contracts presented a “financial conflict of interest” and barred him from participating in matters at EPA that would have a “direct and predictable” financial benefit for his clients.

Pruitt named Konkus, a Republican political consultant, to serve as the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs. His duties have included signing off on hundreds of millions in federal grants.

The letter gave Konkus approval to work for at least two clients. Those names were blacked out by the agency before a copy was provided to Congress, citing a privacy exemption more typically used to protect personnel records and medical files. The letter said Konkus was also expected to take on additional private clients, advising them about “strategy, mail and media production.”

Konkus didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. His boss said he followed proper procedure.

Liz Bowman, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs, said, “As the letter states, EPA career ethics approvals have reviewed and approved these opportunities.”

Federal regulations would still limit Konkus from receiving more than $27,765 from outside clients in 2017, according to the letter. His taxpayer-funded salary for his full-time position at the EPA is about $145,000 annually.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Konkus worked as an executive vice president for Jamestown Associates, a political consulting firm. According to the firm’s website last year, Konkus “worked on the ground tirelessly to help President Trump win Florida.”

Konkus also served two years as chief of staff to former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. A Republican, Carroll was forced to resign in 2013 over consulting work she had previously done for a scam veteran’s charity that state and federal prosecutors said laundered more than $300 million in proceeds from illegal gambling parlors.

Since Konkus arrived in Washington in early 2017, his responsibilities have included reviewing and approving all EPA grants prior to being awarded to help ensure they “adhere to the policies and principles of the current administration,” according to his online resume.

The Washington Post reported in September that Konkus had been scrutinizing grant applications for mentions of climate change, which he reportedly referred to as “the double C-word.”

That’s in line with statements by Pruitt, who as the administration’s top environmental official has embraced a pro-fossil-fuel agenda while questioning climate science showing that global warming is primarily caused by man-made carbon emissions.

House Democrats decried what they called the politicization of the EPA’s grants-making process in a letter sent to Pruitt on Monday.

“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest,” said the letter. Signatories included Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Democrats also demanded a list of all other EPA political appointees receiving outside compensation, as well as unredacted copies of the letters approving the outside work.

The AP filed a public records request with EPA in August under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking copies of all ethics letters, agreements or waivers for Pruitt’s team. So far, the agency has yet to release a single document.

Along with the information about Konkus’ side jobs, the House Democrats also got a copy of letter approving similar outside employment for Patrick Davis, another Trump political appointee working as a senior adviser for public engagement in the EPA’s regional office in Denver.

Like Konkus, Davis is a Republican political consultant who led Trump’s presidential campaign in Colorado. According to a 2015 report by ProPublica, Davis was accused two years earlier of defrauding a conservative super PAC called Vote2ReduceDebt, which was funded by an elderly oil tycoon. The group collapsed after Davis allegedly paid nearly $3 million of the PAC’s funds to organizations run by him or his close associates, according to the news report.

Davis told the AP on Monday that the dispute involving Vote2Reduce Debt “was mitigated to a mutually agreed-upon, private, amicable conclusion.”

An EPA ethics lawyer in February 2017 approved of Davis receiving outside compensation for work as sales director for a company called Telephone Town Hall Meeting, which provides services such as robocalls to political campaigns and advocacy groups. The agency redacted how much Davis is to be paid for the agreement, but his outside compensation would also be capped at less than $28,000.

Bowman said Davis’ work for Telephone Town Hall Meeting is conducted on his own time and does not intersect with work for EPA.

Environmentalists said Monday that the agency’s lack of transparency about the private payments to EPA staff on the public’s payroll raises concerns about whom they are really working for.

“The American people already know that Scott Pruitt is working for corporate polluters and not for them, but the revelation that his staff is moonlighting for private clients while working at the EPA full-time brings suspicions of pay-to-play to a whole new level,” said Melinda Pierce, the legislative director of the Sierra Club. “And if Konkus is not working for polluters directly, the public is forced to ask whether he is running a partisan political operation from within the agency instead.”

[Associated Press]

Trump nominates Dow Chemicals lawyer to oversee EPA toxic waste program

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday nominated a Dow Chemicals lawyer to head-up an Environmental Protection Agency unit that oversees hazardous waste disposal and chemical spills from toxic “Superfund” sites.

Trump named Peter Wright as assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM). Wright served as Dow’s managing counsel for environmental health and safety and provided the company legal support for Superfund and other remediation sites, according to the EPA.

“He has the expertise and experience necessary to implement our ambitious goals for cleaning up the nation’s contaminated lands quickly and thoroughly,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a press release.

Pruitt has said that cleaning up Superfund sites would be a priority for the agency.

As head of OLEM, Wright would oversee the development of guidelines for the land disposal of hazardous waste and underground storage tanks and respond to abandoned and active hazardous waste sites, as well as accidental chemical releases through the Superfund program.

Dow Chemicals facilities are involved in dozens of Superfund projects.

Dow had accrued $219 million in accrued obligations for remediating Superfund sites, according to the company’s fourth quarter 2017 10-K filing.

Overall, Dow had accrued $1.3 billion in “probable environmental remediation and restoration costs,” according to the 10-K.

The EPA’s relationship with Dow had been under scrutiny after Pruitt last year announced the agency would decline to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a chemical that EPA scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics wanted to ban because of the risk it said it posed to children and farm workers.


Major EPA reorganization will end science research program

A federal environmental program that distributes grants to test the effects of chemical exposure on adults and children is being shuttered amidst a major organization consolidation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) will no longer exist following plans to combine three EPA offices, the agency confirmed to The Hill Monday.

The program provides millions of dollars in grants each year.

Perhaps best known for its handling of fellowships that study the effects of chemicals on children’s health, NCER will be dissolved and science staff serving there will be reassigned elsewhere within the department, EPA said.

The merger will involve EPA’s Office of Administrative and Research Support, Office of Program Accountability and Resource Management, and the grants and contracts managed by NCER to create a new Office of Resource Management.

Other EPA functions consolidated into the new office include the handling of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, records management and budget formulation functions.

An EPA spokesperson said the extensive organizational changes are meant to create more efficiency within the agency.

“EPA’s Office of Research and Development is one of the world’s leading environmental and human health research organizations. In order to maintain the quality and focus of our research, senior leaders from the research and development office are proactively taking steps to create management efficiencies within the organization,” the spokesperson said. “These changes will help EPA’s Office of Research and Development be more responsive to agency priorities and funding realities.”

Both of the White House’s fiscal 2018 and 2019 budgets proposed zeroing out major programs under NCER, but the cuts were not taken up in the most recent congressional budget.

An EPA spokesperson said that under the planned overhaul, employees currently working at NCER will not be fired, but may have their positions altered.

“At the appropriate time, the science staff currently in NCER will be redeployed to the ORD labs/centers/offices matching their expertise to organizational needs. This reorganization could result in a change of positions or functions. Staff in the affected organizations will retain the grade and career ladder of their position of record,” the spokesperson said.

NCER is largely known for the funding it provides through its premiere program, Science To Achieve Results (STAR). Under the STAR program, grants are given to the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers, which were established in 1988 to discover methods to reduce children’s health risks from environmental factors.

“Those programs have been so successful in advancing our scientific understanding and our ability to address the ways that environmental chemicals can impact children’s health,” said Tracey Woodruff, a former senior scientist and policy advisor at the EPA under the Clinton and Bush administrations. “The children centers were really the first and only centers to undercover the relationship with prenatal exposure to flame retardants and IQ deficiencies in children.”

A report released by the National Academy of Sciences last year that was compiled at EPA’s request, championed the STAR program for its “numerous successes.”

“STAR has had numerous successes, such as in research on human health implications of air pollution, on environmental effects on children’s health and well-being, on interactions between climate change and air quality, and on the human health implications of nanoparticles. Those are just a few examples; many more could be cited,” the report read.

Woodruff called the decision to merge NCER with the other offices, which currently do not focus on handling grants, extremely concerning.

“They make it sound like this is a way to create efficiency, but it masks what’s happening to this actually programmatic, scientific function of NCER and the STAR program. That makes you think, ‘Is this really just an efficiency argument masking their real intention to get rid of the research grant program, which they have said they want to do in the past?’ she said. “Answering FOIAs and administering scientific grants are not the same thing.”

EPA has recently acknowledged a slow-down in the rate of FOIA requests answered, citing a backlog in previous requests made under the Obama administration and an uptick in FOIA requests sent since President Trump took office.

The EPA official did not acknowledge how the agency rearrangement may address those issues.

[The Hill]

EPA Head Says He Needs to Fly First Class Because People Are Mean to Him in Coach

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has broken months of silence about his frequent premium-class flights at taxpayer expense, saying he needs to fly first class because of unpleasant interactions with other travelers.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke about his flight costs on Tuesday in a pair of interviews in New Hampshire, following a first-class flight to meet with the state’s Republican governor and tour a toxic waste site.

Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader he had some “incidents” on flights shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump last year.

“We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment,” said Pruitt, who confirmed to the newspaper that he had flown first class from Washington to Boston before continuing on to New Hampshire. “We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat.”

Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to have a 24-hour security detail that accompanies him at all times, even at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. He has also taken other security precautions, including the addition of a $25,000 soundproof “privacy booth” to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls and spending $3,000 to have his office swept for hidden listening devices.

Pruitt said he was not involved in the decision for him to fly first class.

“There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator, as I’ve flown and spent time, of interaction that’s not been the best,” Pruitt told WMUR TV in Manchester, New Hampshire. “And, so, ingress and egress off the plane … that’s all decisions all made by our (security) detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don’t make any of those decisions. They place me on the plane where they think is best from a safety perspective.”

Pruitt was asked about the issue following a Washington Post report on Sunday that detailed some of his travel expenses, including a $1,641.43 first-class seat for a short flight in June from Washington to New York City. Pruitt’s ticket cost six times what EPA paid for his aides seated in coach.

The Associated Press reported in July and again in December that spending on commercial airline tickets purchased for Pruitt indicated he was flying in premium-class seats. EPA’s press office has repeatedly refused to comment on whether Pruitt was flying first class.

Federal regulations allow government travelers to fly business class or first class when no cheaper options are “reasonably available” or if there are exceptional security circumstances. However, past federal audits have found that those rules have been routinely violated by high-ranking government officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations.


Trump administration ends EPA clean air policy opposed by fossil fuel companies

The Trump administration announced Thursday it is doing away with a decades-old air emissions policy opposed by fossil fuel companies, a move that environmental groups say will result in more pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was withdrawing the “once-in always-in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which dictated how major sources of hazardous air pollutants are regulated.

Under the EPA’s new interpretation, such “major sources” as coal-fired power plants can be reclassified as “area sources” when their emissions fall below mandated limits, subjecting them to differing standards.

Though formal notice of the reversal has not yet been filed, EPA said the policy it has followed since 1995 relied on an incorrect interpretation of the landmark anti-pollution law.

“This guidance is based on a plain language reading of the statute that is in line with EPA’s guidance for other provisions of the Clean Air Act,” said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”

Prior to his confirmation by the GOP-dominated Senate in November, Wehrum worked as a lawyer representing fossil fuel and chemical companies. The American Petroleum Institute was among the industry groups that had called for the longstanding policy to be scraped.

The Clean Air Act defines a “major source” as one that has the potential to emit 10 tons or more per year of any hazardous air pollutant, or 25 tons per year of any combination of hazardous air pollutants. For more than 20 years, EPA’s “once-in always-in” required major sources to remain subject to stricter control standards, even if they took steps to reduce their pollution below the threshold.

Republicans quickly cheered the move by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, especially those from states that produce oil, gas and coal.

“The EPA’s decision today is consistent with President Trump’s agenda to keep America’s air clean and our economy growing,” said Senate Environment Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming. “Withdrawal of this policy means manufacturers, oil and gas operations, and other types of industrial facilities will have greater incentive to reduce emissions.”

Environmentalists predicted the change would drastically weaken limits on toxic heavy metals emitted from power-plant smokestacks.

“This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health,” said John Walke, the director for clean air issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Rolling back longstanding protections to allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history is unconscionable.”

John Coequyt, who leads climate policy initiatives for the Sierra Club, said the move will lead directly to dirtier air and more deaths.

“Trump and Pruitt are essentially creating a massive loophole that will result in huge amounts of toxic mercury, arsenic, and lead being poured into the air we breathe, meaning this change is a threat to anyone who breathes and a benefit only to dangerous corporate polluters,” Coequyt said.

[CBS News]

Scott Pruitt Declares War on Air Pollution Science

The Trump administration’s environmental denialism runs much deeper than global warming. That became clear just one month into the presidency, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where panelist Steve Milloy—formerly a paid flack for the tobacco and fossil fuel industries and member of the president’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team—argued that the mainstream science on the health risks of air pollution was wrong. Contra the Centers for Disease Controlthe World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health and most publishing epidemiologists, Milloy insisted that excessive particulate matter is not linked to premature death—and that scientists who advise the EPA made up evidence to support the Obama administration’s regulatory priorities. “These people validate and rubber-stamp the EPA’s conclusion that air pollution kills people,” he said. His co-panelists nodded in agreement.

Milloy called for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to overhaul the agency’s scientific advisory boards, the bodies that ensure public health regulations are based on sound, peer-reviewed science. Milloy said scientists who receive EPA grants are biased toward regulation, and thus Pruitt should ban them from serving on the boards. He and his co-panelists also argued for more representation from polluting industries, which clearly do have a bias against regulation.

Milloy and others on the anti-environmental fringe are getting their wish. On Tuesday, Pruitt announced massive changes to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council, both of which advise EPA on the science behind proposed regulations. Pruitt announced that EPA will no longer appoint scientists who have received grants from the agency to these boards. “From this day forward, EPA advisory committee members will be financially independent from the agency,” he said. Pruitt is also expected to replace every single member whose term is expiring instead of renewing some for a second term, as is common practice. Terry Yosie, former director of the Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told me, “It’s fair to say that this has never happened to this sweeping degree before of existing board members whose terms are expiring this year.”

These changes have been expected for several weeks, but it’s all the more concerning when we look at who these new advisors are. A list of expected appointees to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, obtained by the Post, E&E News, and The New Republic, shows that Pruitt is expected to appoint multiple people who have downplayed the impact of air pollution on public health. These deniers will have the influence to contort EPA science, leading to the weakening or even repeal of clean-air regulations that protected Americans for decades.

Of the 17 new members expected to be appointed to the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), three hail from large fossil-fuel companies: Southern Company, Phillips 66, and Total. Three are from red-state governments; one is from a chemical industry trade association; the rest are from various universities and consulting groups. Five of the 17 hold views on air pollution that are outside of the scientific mainstream. Of the three new members expected to be appointed to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council (CASAC), one is an air pollution skeptic.

Most toxicologists and epidemiologists accept that air pollution can harm humans, and that excessive air pollution can lead to death in vulnerable populations (like children and the elderly). That’s why the government regulates it—principally under the Clean Air Act, a widely popular law passed in 1963 and amended multiple times with unanimous or overwhelming support in the Senate. Through that law, we have various regulations on specific air pollutants, including National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter and ground-level ozone.

Several expected SAB appointees will likely argue that these regulations should be weakened. Michael Honeycutt, the director of toxicology at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), has been aggressively seeking a spot on one of the scientific advisory boards since last year. He is “one of the top ozone science doubters in the state,” according to a 2016 profile in the Houston Press:

Honeycutt is the guy who has been leading the charge against making any changes to air quality standards in Texas. He and a bunch of TCEQ scientists have followed in the footsteps of Republicans in Texas and across the country in vowing to oppose EPA air quality changes until the end of time, more or less. He’s stated in the past he’s against any measures to reduce air pollution mainly because he feels they would be too expensive. Aside from that, Honeycutt reasons that ozone levels aren’t an issue at all because  “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors” so they’re rarely exposed to significant layers of ozone.

The EPA considers ozone a harmful air pollutant. “Reducing ozone pollution makes breathing easier,” the agency’s website reads. “Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma.” Honeycutt, who’s been trying to undercut the scientific basis for smog regulations since 2010, argues that people aren’t outside long enough for high levels of ozone exposure to make a difference.

Robert Phalen, who directs the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory at the University of California Irvine, is not an obvious ideologue like Honeycutt, but his research findings would support a deregulatory agenda for air pollution. “The relative risks associated with modern [particulate matter] are very small and confounded by many factors,” he wrote in a 2004 study. “Neither toxicology studies nor human clinical investigations have identified the components and/or characteristics of [particulate matter] that might be causing the health-effect associations.” Phalen has argued that the air is currently too clean, because children’s lungs need to breathe irritants in order to learn how to fight them. “Modern air,” he said in 2012, “is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Anne Smith, an analyst at NERA Economic Consulting, has argued against President Barack Obama’s signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan. Specifically, she took issue with how his administration classified the health risks of particulate matter. She contends that one can’t know for certain whether a death during, for instance, a smog event was directly caused by air pollution. Mainstream scientists acknowledge as much, but say the strong statistical correlation between death rates and pollution rates are enough to prove the risks. Smith disagrees.

The rest of the expected nominees are similarly skeptical. The University of North Carolina’s Richard Smith is the author of a recent peer-reviewed study that found “No association of acute deaths with levels of PM2.5 or ozone.” Stanley Young, a listed expert at the climate-denying Heartland Institute, has written that there is “empirical evidence and a logical case that air pollution is (most likely) not causally related to acute deaths.” And Tony Cox—the one expected to be appointed to the clean air board—has long argued that the public health benefits of reducing ozone pollution are “unwarranted and exaggerated.”

Unlike with climate change, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is driven by humans, some peer-reviewed studies cast doubt on air pollution’s health impacts. But other peer-reviewed studies say air pollution’s health risks are even greater than we currently assume. And the majority of scientists agree that air pollution poses a threat to public health, and can trigger death in vulnerable populations. The disproportionate number of doubters on Pruitt’s science advisory team doesn’t reflect that robust debate happening within the scientific community. Instead, it drastically tips the scales in favor of Pruitt’s deregulatory policy agenda. Or as Milloy, the EPA transition team member and CPAC panelist put it on Tuesday afternoon, “More winning!”

[New Republic]

EPA cancels appearance of scientists at climate change event

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has canceled the appearance of three scientists at an event on Monday in Rhode Island about a report, which deals in part with climate change.

The New York Times reports EPA spokesman John Konkus confirmed on Sunday that agency scientists would not be speaking at the event in Providence. Konkus did not provide an explanation.

The event is designed to draw attention to the health of Narragansett Bay, which forms New England’s largest estuary.

A spokesman for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island says the event will go on as planned and the report that EPA scientists helped work on will be released.

In a statement to The Associated Press Sunday night, Reed said “muzzling EPA scientists won’t do anything to address climate change.”

[CBS News]


You can read the report here.

Trump EPA Pick Defends His Extreme Views as ‘Sound Science’

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the federal office for chemical safety, defended his record against fierce attacks from Democrats, who accused him of downplaying the risks of potentially toxic chemicals.

“I have been objective in my work and applied sound science to come to my conclusions,” said Dourson, a toxicologist who is Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office.

Democrats repeatedly pressed Dourson to commit to recusing himself from EPA decisions involving chemicals that industry players had paid for him to review, pointing out that his proposed standards for safe exposure were often much weaker than the EPA’s.

Dourson refused to state whether he would recuse himself, saying only that he would rely on EPA’s ethics officials to determine if such actions was necessary. According to his financial disclosure forms, Dourson hasn’t been directly paid by chemical companies within the past year, making it unlikely that he would have to recuse himself because of ethics laws, The New York Times reported.

In his opening remarks, Dourson promised to protect the American public, “including its most vulnerable.” He added that his research and consulting company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, received only one-third of its funding from private industry, with the remainder coming from government sponsors.

But Dourson’s testimony did little to assuage Democrats. When Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked Dourson if he would weaken the EPA’s existing standards for 1,4-Dioxane — a solvent that the agency has classified as a likely carcinogen — Dourson said he would “bring new science and thinking into the agency.”

Markey lashed out, saying that Dourson’s proposed standard for 1,4-Dioxane was 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s. “You’re not just an outlier on the science — you’re outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are,” Markey said.

Throughout the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, repeatedly quoted praise for Dourson from toxicology professionals who described him as “highly qualified” and “a leader in the field of risk assessment.”

Democrats do not have the votes to block Dourson’s nomination, but if he passes out of committee — which didn’t vote on his nomination Wednesday — they could threaten to prolong the nominating process by using a Senate procedure that requires 30 hours of debate for each nominee.

[NBC News]


Dourson has written books and often engages in “faith based science” which cherry-picks actual scientific evidence to fit into a Biblical narrative.

EPA Public Affairs Official Given Right to Veto Climate Change Federal Grants

Scientists and university researchers who are seeking grants from the Environmental Protection Agency are unlikely to see any funding come their way if they mentions the dreaded double-C words: climate change.

According to the Washington Post, the EPA has given veto power over grants and awards to John Konkus, who goes by the title of Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Affairs.

The Post notes that the EPA doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and that those dollars are, in essence, only given with the approval of Konkus now.

Konkus has reportedly told staffers that he is empowered to look for “the double C-word” — climate change — and warned grant officers that they not to be mentioned in funding solicitations.

The report states that Konkus has already canceled close to $2 million awarded to universities and nonprofit organizations.

EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman dismissed concerns about the politicized influence of Konkus, stating in an email that grant decisions are, “to ensure funding is in line with the Agency’s mission and policy priorities. We review grants to see if they are providing tangible results to the American people.”

Former EPA head, Republican Christine Todd Whitman criticized the role of Konkus, saying, “We didn’t do a political screening on every grant, because many of them were based on science, and political appointees don’t have that kind of background.”

Prior to serving in the EPA’s pubic affairs office, Konkus served as President Donald Trump’s Leon County, Florida, campaign chairman and as a political consultant for hire.

[Raw Story]

Donald Trump’s EPA Is Now Attacking Journalists

On Saturday, Associated Press journalists Jason Dearen and Michael Biesecker reported at least five toxic, Houston-area Superfund sites in the path of Hurricane Harvey had been deluged with floodwater, potentially distributing the assorted nasty things contained within across a much larger geographical area. The AP report noted while its reporters were able to access the sites via boat, the Environmental Protection Agency was not on scene, and did not provide a timeline for when its staff would be able to visit them.

Now the EPA, which is under the control of Donald Trump appointee and longtime EPA hater Scott Pruitt, has fired back with one of the administration’s favorite tactics: smearing the messenger. In an extraordinary statement that appeared on the agency’s website on Sunday, the EPA called the AP report “misleading” and attacked Biesecker’s “audacity” and credibility.

“Here’s the truth: through aerial imaging, EPA has already conducted initial assessments at 41 Superfund sites—28 of those sites show no damage, and 13 have experienced flooding,” the EPA wrote.

Notably, the EPA tried to bury that its “initial assessment” was conducted with “aerial images,” not actual on-site assessments, and that the agency had failed to visit at least 11 possibly storm-damaged Superfund sites as of Saturday. That is completely in line with the original AP report.

“Administrator Pruitt already visited Southeast Texas and is in constant contact with local, state and county officials,” the statement continued. “And EPA, has a team of experts imbedded with other local, state and federal authorities, on the ground responding to Harvey – none of which Biesecker included in his story.”

“Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story,” the EPA continued. “Earlier this summer, he made-up a meeting that Administrator Pruitt had, and then deliberately discarded information that refuted his inaccurate story—ultimately prompting a nation-wide correction. Additionally, the Oklahoman took him to task for sensationalized reporting.”

(Biesecker did not make up the story, which is that Pruitt met with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris before deciding not to ban Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide, but instead issued a correction regarding the length of said meeting.)

In a followup statement, EPA Associate Administrator Liz Bowman claimed the AP was “once again” attempting to “mislead Americans” by “cherry-picking facts,” and slammed the report as “yellow journalism.” The statement also links to far-right website Breitbart, one of the president’s favorite websites.

Since the EPA did not actually contest any of the facts in the AP article, this looks an awful lot like petty retaliation against journalists for having the temerity to report on things like the EPA’s response to an environmental catastrophe—or any number of other things, like Pruitt’s extremely sketchy ties to the climate change denial movement, war on environmental science or plans to eliminate huge numbers of EPA staff.

Going after reporters might please the big, stupid and extremely petty man in the Oval Office. But that’s precisely because responding to bad publicity by doubling down and smearing critics is the way a child would handle things. Never mind the toxic waste potentially spread all around Houston—a bunch of Trump appointees’ egos are the real victims here.


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