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EPA Should Retreat from Rulemakings Amid Cozy Ties With Activist Organizations


By Karen Kerrigan

A newly released batch of emails is raising the curtain on inappropriate coordination taking place between senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials and activist organizations. Indeed, Washington, D.C. is a cozy town where social and business lives collide, but the extent to which personal relationships impact the professionalism, duties and fairness of regulators and the regulatory process is fair game for criticism. The new emails detail the extent of these personal relationships between EPA staff and environmental activists, and how EPA senior staff has leveraged these relationships to request pro-regulatory reports and support from prominent activist organizations.

While not the first time the EPA has been caught coordinating with activists, the emails raise further questions as to the extraordinary influence these radical organizations have and whether ordinary small businesses, consumers and communities impacted by EPA’s regulations even have a shot at being heard during the regulatory process.

Parties and Meetings

The emails show that a then high-ranking EPA official and staff at activist environmental organizations had extensive personal relationships. Media outlets have reported the details about EPA senior official Michael Goo’s “Goofest 2013” where staff members from activist organizations such as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) were invited to attend.

This party invitation was the subject of a spirited exchange at a hearing featuring EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy held by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The exchange came when Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) questioned McCarthy about the appropriateness of these interactions. From Rep. Johnson:

“And do you think it is appropriate for someone that is responsible for directing the EPA’s policy to host a party that includes attendees attempting to influence the agency?”

With those concerns raised, McCarthy struggled to answer:

“I would agree that Michael Goo knows a lot of people and (Crosstalk) I have no reason to believe that this was about influencing.”

Yet other emails detail arrangements being made for a private meeting between a senior attorney with the NRDC Water Program and EPA officials at a coffee shop located in the lobby of a Washington D.C. hotel. While we may never know what was discussed, it is clear that NRDC staff enjoy a privileged relationship that allows them unfettered access to agency decision makers.

“A Report or Two”

In the email trove we can also find a suggestion from Goo to NRDC Director of Climate Programs Dave Hawkins on how the organization could assist the agency in reacting to claims from opponents of a draft EPA rule. The exchange started when Hawkins shared a quote he provided, “unattributed,” to the environmental newsletter Inside EPA with Goo, raising the issue of planned coal fire power plant construction projects:

CRS EPA email 1

While Hawkins sharing his “unattributed” quote with a senior EPA official is shocking on its own, Goo’s response sheds light on just how closely the agency works with environmental activist organizations in pursuit of what can be described as a shared policy agenda. From Goo:

CRS EPA email 2

Goo’s request for “a report or two” from the NRDC is extremely troubling and raises significant questions as to inappropriate coordination. In fact, Hawkins diligently followed through on Goo’s request, and published a blog on the NRDC website addressing that very subject. From Hawkins’ blog:

“Flacks for the coal lobby have their hair on fire about the rumored content of draft EPA standards that haven’t even been released.  They say the standards will kill new coal plants.  Haven’t they been paying attention?  No one wants to build new coal plants.  Except for a handful already underway, no more are planned for the foreseeable future.”

The request from Goo begs the question as to whether there ever was a fair consideration of the proposed rule in question or whether the effort was nothing more than an exclusive, coordinated campaign between the agency and activist organizations.

Close Coordination

These latest revelations show a pattern of coordination behind the scenes between EPA officials and environmental activist organizations in pursuit of a shared policy agenda – a special interest agenda. Unfortunately, that agenda comes at the cost of jobs, small businesses and the economic health of communities across the country. As the EPA continues to advance rulemakings against the objections of local governments, small business owners and economic development officials, this behind-the-scenes coordination with outside political groups is disturbing.

In fact, these revelations should cause the EPA to pause in pursuit of even more damaging proposals currently in progress. The regulatory process needs to be equitable and open, where all those who are impacted have an equal seat at the table. With the EPA set to make a decision on proposed ozone standards that are being called “the most expensive regulation in U.S. history,” special interest access on agency rulemakings is another reason why the rulemakings need to be abandoned.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council). The Center for Regulatory Solutions is a project of the Council.