D.C. Court Orders EPA to Enforce Air Pollution Conflict-of-interest Rules in Alabama, Mississippi, Illinois

For Immediate Release, July 5, 2018

Contacts: Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 598-1466, jevans@biologicaldiversity.org
Caroline Cox, Center for Environmental Health, (510) 655-3900 x 308, Caroline@ceh.org

WASHINGTON— A federal court in Washington today ordered Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to ensure that Alabama, Mississippi and Illinois have plans prohibiting conflicts of interest on state boards overseeing air-pollution permits.

“This victory means Pruitt has to make sure polluters aren’t controlling decisions about hazards in the air we breathe,” said Jonathan Evans, legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program. “Our clean-air laws have to be enforced by people who put public health before profits.”

Federal conflict-of-interest rules ensure that people who work for polluters are not making decisions about air-pollution permits and require that those rules are enforceable by the general public.

Today’s order came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health and the Sierra Club.

The ruling is an important step in making sure that Trey Glenn, President Trump’s problematic choice to head the EPA’s regional office for Alabama and Mississippi, avoids past conflicts of interest. During Glenn’s tenure leading the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, an Alabama ethics commission found that he violated ethics laws to get the job as well as to obtain gifts.

“Today’s decision reinforces the government’s responsibility to be fair and even-handed while ensuring that every American has safe, breathable air,” said Stephen Stetson, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Regulators should be independent of the industries they regulate, and Administrator Pruitt consistently fails in this area.”

The director of the state of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Alec Messina, also has industry ties that have come under question. Investigative reporters uncovered how Messina, while at the Illinois EPA, has been working on proposals that could benefit the interest of one of his former fossil fuel industry clients to keep open eight financially struggling coal plants in central and southern Illinois.

“You can’t know whether your regulators have conflicts of interests if you’re not even looking,” said, Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “These rules are in place for an important reason — people with financial ties to polluters shouldn’t be making calls on who’s polluting and who’s not.”

The Clean Air Act requires that states have plans in place to make sure a majority of members of any state board or body approving or enforcing federal air-pollution permits do not derive a significant portion of their income from individuals or companies seeking those permits or subject to enforcement orders.

The Act also requires adequate disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest of state board members and heads of executive agencies.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and supporters dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Center for Environmental Health works with parents, communities, businesses, workers, and government to protect children and families from toxic chemicals in homes, workplaces, schools and neighborhoods.

The Sierra Club is a grassroots environmental organization with more than 3 million members and supporters working to safeguard the health of communities, protect wildlife, and preserve wild places through public education, lobbying, and litigation.

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