Dimple Chaudhary – Deputy General Counsel at the EPA
Dimple Chaudhary was a senior lawyer for one of the world’s largest environmental special interest groups. Now she’s charged with providing legal counsel to advance the Biden Climate Agenda which may include cases that her former employer was directly involved in.
Federal ethics regulations and the Biden ethics pledge require that she not participate in matters in which her former employer was a party.
In January 2021, Dimple Chaudhary joined the Biden Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the Deputy General Counsel for Nationwide Resource Protection Programs. However, her previous role as Deputy Litigation Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) could seriously complicate her ability to comply with her ethics obligations.
Environmental Defense Fund
The NRDC is considered one of the world’s leading environmental non-profit organizations. One of its primary means of achieving its goals is litigation. NDRC’s own website lists many cases where it is a party to litigation on issues relating to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, pesticides, navigable waters, and a plethora of other issues over which EPA has jurisdiction. Many of these cases are ongoing, and may require input or involvement from Ms. Chaudhary as part of her official duties.
There is hardly an area within EPA where NRDC does not engage. For many such issues, her former employer frequently authors public comments and advocacy campaigns, and has released a steady stream of press releases voicing support for the Biden Administration’s agenda at EPA and other agencies. Many of NRDC’s goals relating to climate change, carbon emissions, clean energy, and pollution align with the priorities outlined in the Biden Administration’s recently-released FY2022 Budget Proposal for EPA.
NRDC has a robust international advocacy and outreach program. For example, the organization’s website states it has been very involved in introducing clean energy, efficiency, pollution cleanup and other initiatives into China, and has an office located in Beijing, according to its 2020 Financial Report. NRDC has also undertaken similar efforts in India. In both countries, the NRDC’s endeavors seem to focus on coordination with foreign government and industries. The 2020 Financial Report indicates over $21 million in international expenses.
Given the Biden Administration’s strong interest in promoting global action on climate change, a government-wide approach to developing international agreements should be expected. As the government’s central regulatory body in these matters, the EPA, and likely its legal arm, the Office of the General Counsel are sure to be heavily involved. Thus, the American public needs to be assured that Ms. Chaudhary and others making decisions at EPA are acting in an unbiased and compliant manner.
Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency
According to the EPA’s website, the Office of the General Counsel is the EPA’s chief legal advisor regarding the implementation of environmental laws. As Deputy General Counsel for Nationwide Resource Protection Programs, Ms. Chaudhary will be asked to provide legal advice and interpretation of existing laws, rules, and regulations; make legal recommendations to EPA leadership about pending or future litigation cases, and weigh in on the legal sufficiency of any forthcoming rules or regulations the EPA may undertake.
It is no secret that climate change is a top priority for President Biden. To achieve his goals, the Administration has focused on the EPA as one of the key agencies to advance many of the specific policies and reverse policies undertaken by the previous administration. She cannot participate in any decision, deliberation or action where her former employer is a party or represents a party. Yet there is hardly an issue mentioned that Ms. Chaudhary or her former employer did not work on over the last several years. Therefore, there could be a very large number of court cases and other issues she could be prohibited from participating in, which raises significant concerns about how she will effectively discharge her duties while adhering to her ethical obligations.
According to her recusal statement, Ms. Chaudhary only participated personally and substantially in four cases while at NRDC that are still active before EPA. This of course raises concerns regarding how she could be the Deputy Litigation Director of one of the largest and most legally-active environmental groups in the world while having only four active cases before the EPA. Further, does this mean Ms. Chaudhary intends to participate personally and substantially in matters where NRDC is a party or represents a party before the Agency? How is this consistent with her obligations to avoid participation in particular matters where there is an appearance of bias?