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Biden EPA's web of conflicts with climate groups forces ethics waiver for one official

Agency concluded politically appointed lawyer could participate in cases involving ex-client despite conflict, because other appointees already recused.

Updated: July 6, 2021 - 11:31pm

The revolving door between climate change special interests and the Biden Environmental Protection Agency has swung open so often in recent months that the agency is being forced to grant an ethics waiver to one of its politically appointed lawyers allowing her to participate in cases involving a former client.

The reason? The other political appointees in the EPA office of general counsel (OGC) already have conflicts of interests that forced recusals, leaving the agency without someone to provide legal advice to the administration, according to new government memos unearthed by the citizen watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust.

The limited conflict of interest waiver allows EPA Deputy General Counsel Marianne Engelman-Lado to participate in decisions involving one of her former environmental group clients, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"Although EPA currently has two other political appointees in OGC, both have their own bar and pledge obligations to observe with respect to matters arising in PTSLO," the waiver notice states. "Consequently, there is an overlap of recusals that is impinging the ability of OGC to interact with our political leadership in certain nationally significant issues related to public health and the environment that are important priorities of the Administration."

The memo noted the reasons for the other appointees' recusals: "With respect to the other OGC political appointees, one is recused because NRDC is her 'former employer' for purposes of Executive Order 13989, while the other appointee is recused given prior involvement as an employee in a State government."

In granting the reprieve from ethics rules, the agency said Engelman-Lado represented NRDC in "discrete and limited" legal matters involving the EPA and open records requests and not other policy matters.

But Michael Chamberlain, the director of Protect the Public's Trust, said the waiver is one of many growing signs that the Biden administration has too cozy a relationship with private climate advocacy groups.

"This situation is emblematic of what is happening in so many agencies across the administration," he told Just the News. "They filled leadership positions with activists from advocacy organizations that challenged virtually every action of the previous administration. The miasma of conflicts this has created in some cases is so thick they have to seek waivers from ethics commitments just to perform basic functions." 

Chamberlain's group, which is tracking ethical conflicts in the Biden administration, added two more officials — both from EPA — to its watchlist on Wednesday:

"In light of their most recent positions with large, wealthy and powerful special interest groups engaged in a massive quantity of matters with the EPA, the roles of Ms. Chaudhary and Ms. Nunez would appear to create enormous potential conflicts of interest," Chamberlain said. "These are not the only officials at EPA who have shown up on our radar. With the American public's trust in government already at an all-time low, they have every right to demand answers from these and other EPA officials to the questions raised concerning how the agency will be able to function with the raft of potential conflicts its leadership bring to their roles."

In addition to Protect the Public's Trust, some GOP senators have also raised questions about conflicts of interests and recusals early in the administration, ranging from the Justice Department to the State Department and climate envoy John Kerry.

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