Liberal Watchdog Group Claims Trump’s EPA Illegally Lobbied Against Paris Climate Deal

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A Democratic watchdog group claimed Thursday that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt illegally lobbied against the Paris climate accord before President Donald Trump eventually backed out of the non-binding agreement.

The American Democracy Legal Fund (ADLF) sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) complaining Pruitt violated an obscure lobbying law prohibiting federal agencies from spending taxpayer dollars before Congress can appropriate money. Federal employees are prohibited from lobbying to support or oppose legislation.

ADLF claims Pruitt broke the law in April when he met with the National Mining Association, a lobbying group for the mining industry, and spent the bulk of his discussion railing against the Paris deal. Pruitt criticized the deal while members of Congress were introducing Paris-related pieces of legislation, most of which either sought to reaffirm or denounce the deal, the group’ complaint alleges.

“Scott Pruitt misused the taxpayer money that funds the EPA and the powers of his office with his illegal lobbying activities,” Brad Woodhouse, the head of ADLF, told reporters in a statement. A similar complaint was lodged against Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, who some believe illegally lobbied on behalf of the EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS).

GAO determined in 2015 that the EPA’s Thunderclap social media campaign in support of WOTUS constituted “covert propaganda, in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition.” McCarthy’s agency illegally linked to activist websites with petitions for the public to contact elected officials to voice support for beefing up regulations on American waterways.

Republicans ratcheted up their concerns after New York Times reported in May of that year that the agency “orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grassroots organization aligned with President Obama.”

Some academics familiar with the EPA and administrative functions believe Pruitt’s behavior mirror what McCarthy did with respect to the WOTUS rule.

“If he did it,” Jeffrey Lubbers, a law professor at American University said about Pruitt’s meeting, then “it seems like it’s of the same piece as what EPA was being charged with in the WOTUS rule making.”

ALDF also alleges that Pruitt, who sued the EPA nearly a dozen times when he was an Oklahoma AG, failed to make clear “whether Pruitt spoke on behalf of the EPA or himself” when he was criticizing the Paris deal. Lubbers of the American University is not convinced.

“When you’re appointed the head of the EPA, you’re always the head of EPA,” he told reporters. “So it was pretty clear he was speaking as the head of EPA. So I don’t see any covertness in his speech. So that part of it just strikes me as really far-fetched.”

It remains to be seen whether the GAO will investigated the watchdog group’s complaints. The agency only pursues an investigation when members of Congress or other federal agencies request probes.

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