02:38 - Source: CNN
Ex-coal lobbyist takes over for Pruitt at EPA
CNN  — 

A government watchdog group called for a congressional investigation Friday into allegations that acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler violated transparency law in his previous work as a lobbyist, accusing him of hiding meetings with the Department of Interior about shrinking a national monument to allow for the reopening of a uranium mine.

Campaign for Accountability’s complaint alleges Wheeler and his prior lobbying firm, Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which aims to bring transparency to federal lobbying activity.

Wheeler worked for Faegre Baker Daniels prior to his confirmation as deputy administrator of the EPA in April. He took over as acting administrator in July after agency head Scott Pruitt resigned amid multiple scandals and investigations.

The EPA said in a statement to CNN, “Acting Administrator Wheeler has been very transparent concerning his work with Energy Fuels Resources, even discussing this during his confirmation process. He has consistently worked to comply with the Lobbying Disclosure Act; this particular matter involving Energy Fuels Resources and Bears Ears National Monument does not impact his work at EPA as this is not an agency-related issue.”

As a lobbyist, Wheeler represented client Energy Fuels Resources Inc., a company that owns a now-dormant Daneros uranium mine in Utah, the group’s complaint says. The mine was located within the original boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument before the Trump administration shrank those boundaries in December.

Without the shrunken borders, the mine could not be reopened.

The complaint says Wheeler lobbied for the shrinking of Bears Ears on behalf of Energy Fuels Resources, but Faegre Baker’s disclosure forms in 2017 contained several omissions, including not listing a July 17 meeting that Wheeler attended with a company vice president and Interior officials, which would violate the lobbying law.

“In fact, however, during the third quarter of 2017 Mr. Wheeler and other Faegre Baker lobbyists were actively lobbying senior officials at the Department of the Interior in an effort to change the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument in order to allow Energy Fuels to be able to reopen the Daneros uranium mine when uranium prices rise enough to make it commercially viable again,” the complaint said.

The alleged inaccuracies raise the question of “whether Faegre Baker was extremely careless with its recordkeeping, or it whether it was deliberately trying to obscure Wheeler’s lobbying activity,” the Campaign for Accountability said in a statement to CNN. “If Andrew Wheeler and Faegre Baker failed to tell the truth about their work, they need to be held accountable.”

The complaint alleges that Wheeler and his lobbying firm disclosed their interactions with members of Congress on the Bears Ears issue but did not record their interactions with senior Interior Department officials.

Faegre Baker told CNN it wouldn’t comment on “anything related to client work.”

CNN has reported that Energy Fuels also has tried to win contracts from the EPA to clean up abandoned uranium mines, according to the company’s website and its CEO, raising questions among environmentalists about whether Wheeler can put his lobbying past behind him in leading the EPA.

Wheeler told CNN at the time that he “voluntarily stopped any advocacy activity with EPA under the anticipation that I might be considered for a position at the Agency. Under my ethics agreement with the Agency, I will have no involvement with EFI for two years.”

However, the statement did not mean Wheeler was not lobbying other parts of the Trump administration following the election. And although he did not lobby the EPA while he was under consideration for a job at the agency, his lobbying firm’s colleagues did.

CNN has reported that an internal EPA email showed that the same month Wheeler was lobbying the Interior Department to shrink Bears Ears, his lobbying colleagues at Faegre Baker Daniels were over at the EPA discussing abandoned uranium mines and their cleanup contracts.