EPA watchdog says White House blocked part of its investigation

EPA watchdog says White House blocked part of its investigation
Copyright 2019 CNN

The White House budget office “impeded” part of the investigation into a controversial pro-industry decision that former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed through on his way out the door, according to an inspector general’s report released Thursday.

The EPA inspector general report concluded that EPA, and possibly the budget office, bypassed key steps when it rushed through Pruitt’s proposal to lighten regulations on some heavy-duty trucks using older, less-efficient engines.

Pruitt resigned under a cloud of ethical questions, including allegations he wasted taxpayer funding on extravagant travel arrangements and an unprecedented security detail that surrounded him 24/7, and that he lived in a lobbyist’s apartment at a cut-rate lease.

But the inspector general’s office said it couldn’t get all the information it wanted from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The office “refused to provide … specific responses or documentation,” the inspector general said Thursday. The office told the inspector general that the information was “particularly sensitive.”

“OMB does not release deliberative information from the interagency review process,” OMB press secretary Chase Jennings told CNN. “We provided appropriate information to the EPA inspector general to assist in their investigation.”

Glider kits

The glider industry is premised on heavy-duty engines used in semi-trucks outlasting the truck bodies themselves. Glider kits allow new bodies to be paired with older, still functioning engines — and give the trucking industry a way around the fuel-efficient technology required on newer engines, which they argue is more expensive and less reliable.

As he left the EPA in June 2018, Pruitt a last-minute concession to the industry: He announced that EPA would not enforce the Obama-era rules tightening regulations. Pruitt’s successor, Andrew Wheeler, overturned that decision, saying it was made under “extremely unusual circumstances.”

The inspector general says Pruitt told officials to rush the repeal.

“According to EPA managers and officials, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt directed that the Glider Repeal Rule be promulgated as quickly as possible,” the report says.

In October 2017, an EPA official wrote in an email that the proposal did not “attempt to provide any of the cost/benefit type analysis” typically required for rules that are considered economically significant.

“It is my understanding that such analysis (and data) does not exist; that such analysis will not be produced in the timeframe in which we are working; and that, in any event, if such analysis were ever to be produced, it would most likely not be as ‘supportive’ of the proposal as OMB and others might like,” reads the email.

The two agencies went back and forth over the next three weeks, until an OMB official proposed a workaround: Simply downgrade the rule and bypass the assessments, including impacts on children’s health.

The report notes that in the months before he proposed the changes, Pruitt also “met with representatives of a major glider assembler” and received a petition from the industry.

Pruitt could not immediately be reached for comment.

The agency said in a response to the report that it “agrees with the principles of transparency and public participation in the rulemaking process that the OIG highlights,” and agreed to make further public disclosures if it moves forward with the proposed rule. An EPA spokesman said the agency had nothing further to add.

The Democratic senators who requested the report said it showed “a legally and scientifically flawed process” for developing the proposed rule.

“According to the report, Mr. Pruitt insisted that his staff plow ahead with this rollback without a cost-benefit analysis or children’s health impact assessment, as required by law,” said Sen. Tom Udall and Tom Carper.