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EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials & chemical group

Time:2020-05-18 16:31:23  Source:  Author:

Brenntag was ultimately fined, although the penalty it received was roughly 20 percent lower than the one initially proposed by the EPA. N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

 N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Documents state that the EPA had originally proposed a $19,410 penalty.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

It was eventually settled for $15,591 according to an EPA spokesperson.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

While former EPA officials told The Hill they didn’t think the changed settlement figure was out of the ordinary, the correspondence between an industry executive and former industry officials who landed jobs in the administration underscores what critics say is a cozy relationship between business groups and Trump officials.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

In one 2017 exchange, NACD Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Jennifer Gibson asked Beck and Gunasekara to “assist” with a settlement that followed an alleged failure by Brenntag to certify a certain chemical on an official report.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Brenntag said in a letter that appeared to be attached to an NACD email that the penalty stemmed from its failure to certify the chemical formic acid on an EPA report. The company stated that when it was made aware of this, it “took the corrective action of ‘clicking’ the certification button” on the report.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

In the emails obtained by The Hill, Beck told Gibson in response to the NACD’s concerns that she would “pass this along” to the agency’s enforcement office. In a separate email to Gibson, Beck said “our enforcement team is looking into the additional concerns you sent as well.”N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Gibson added that she and NACD President Eric Byer were working to collect “troubling enforcement examples” from its members “as a follow up” to a meeting with then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Gibson said the group was “curious to know if [the EPA’s Southeast region] even vetted this penalty through EPA headquarters as this seems completely contrary to the approach Administrator Scott Pruitt indicated he would like the agency to take.”N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

The Brenntag facility in question is located in Georgia, though the company is headquartered in Germany and has operations worldwide.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

At the time, Beck was working in the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and Gunasekara worked as a policy adviser for the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Asked about the email exchange, the EPA said that during a roundtable with Pruitt, the NACD had complained of lag time between agency inspections and notification of violations, which created uncertainty. Following this, Pruitt asked his staff to look into why this was occurring, according to the agency.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

In the emails obtained by The Hill, the NACD does not appear to complain about lag time in the Brenntag case; however, the NACD did bring up timing issues in other cases it highlighted to EPA officials.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Just a few months into his tenure at the time of the exchange, Pruitt had previously lamented what he described as the Obama EPA’s “overreach” and famously sued the EPA 14 times before taking the helm at the agency.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Close ties with lobbyists was a defining feature of Pruitt’s controversial tenure. He had rented a condo owned by Vicki Hart, whose husband, J. Steven Hart, was chairman of lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, and had trips planned by industry representatives.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for the left-leaning government accountability group Public Citizen, told The Hill that Republican administrations have been close with industry, but that the closeness is even more pronounced under the Trump administration.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

“The GOP is closely connected to big business,” Gilbert said. “That’s always been the case...That said, I think the Trump administration has taken it to new heights.”N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

The EPA did not provide a comment to The Hill when contacted about criticisms about close ties to industries.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Meanwhile, EPA data has shown that under Trump, the agency has undertaken fewer inspections and evaluations than during the Obama administration in any given year.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

 

The largest number of annual inspections and evaluations under Trump was the nearly 12,000 in 2017; the fewest conducted by the Obama administration was nearly 14,000 in 2016.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

A spokesperson for the NACD declined to answer The Hill’s questions about its meeting with Pruitt, but instead provided a statement which said that it advocates “for approaches that reduce unnecessary burdens, ensure the benefits of regulations are worth the costs, and simplify the process for the regulated community.”N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

“We always welcome opportunities to provide examples of ways in which regulations and enforcement actions are not meeting those thresholds,” the spokesman said. “We will continue to encourage and support efforts to craft pro-business policies that foster growth so our members can keep providing good paying, locally-focused jobs while remaining committed to operating in a safe and responsible manner, regardless of the presidential administration.”N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

Scott Gordon, a former career EPA enforcement official who had been working in the agency’s Southeast region during the time of the Brenntag case, told The Hill that headquarters didn’t attempt to change the decision made by agency officials regarding the matter. N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

“Because I know the underlying facts and I know how the matter was resolved, I think it’s a non-event,” he said. “You might have had those exchanges in other parts of the country where people decided to completely stand down, but that was not the position that we had in [the Southeast region].”  N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

He characterized Beck’s responses in the emails as “pass the buck responses” saying it was OK for the matter to be directed to career enforcement staffers.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

But Lori Ann Burd, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Environmental Health Program Director, told The Hill after reviewing the emails that she found them troubling regardless of the outcome of the individual case.N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

“It would certainly have a chilling effect for regional regulators to know that...there’s a potential for Washington office intervention at the highest levels on their day-to-day routine enforcement actions,” Burd said. “We see that effect play out in the numbers and how far down enforcement actions are at EPA right now.”N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

N7dWUHAN WELL SAILING INDUSTRY AND TRADE CO.,LTD._China Supplie

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