by E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow Greg Walcher
As appearing in The Daily Sentinel
One of the largest and most powerful environmental industry groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRCD), has hired former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as its new president. Although NRDC put out press releases, the hiring escaped the notice of nearly every reporter in the country. Perhaps it didn’t seem especially unusual, nor would it be, but for the feeding frenzy about such “conflicts of interest” in the current administration.
A Nov. 9 New York Times headline, “Interior Chief’s Lobbying Past Has Challenged the Agency’s Ethics Referees,” was repeated in news outlets across the country for two solid weeks. The article alleges that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt faces constant “conflict of interest” problems because he formerly worked for a law firm with clients who have an interest in Interior Department matters. We are supposed to be outraged that he and his former clients even sued the Interior Department on several occasions. Bernhardt had worked at the Interior Department before (as its top attorney), as well as on Capitol Hill, and that law firm hired him precisely because his expertise in those issues was valuable to clients. Would such a firm survive if it only hired attorneys with no experience in the issues their clients cared about?
Similarly, current EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is under constant attack from the environmental industry for the same “offense.” The Environmental Defense Fund calls him “a former coal lobbyist plagued by conflicts of interest.” The Center for Biological Diversity, another giant environmental industry group, sued the EPA demanding records of Wheeler’s meetings with energy lobbyists with whom he once worked. Their attorney said, “The public needs to know what happened between Wheeler’s former employer and the environmental agency he’s now running into the ground. We seem to have another fox guarding the henhouse.”