EPA Official Pledges to Sever “Ties to China,” with a Catch

Protect the Public’s Trust first revealed top science official’s ongoing employment relationship with Chinese government

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust responded to the promise by a high-ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finally sever his relationship with an arm of the Chinese government upon obtaining Senate confirmation. Protect the Public’s Trust first exposed that EPA had permitted Dr. Henry Christopher (Chris) Frey to take a leave of absence rather than resign from his adjunct professorship at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST), revealed in response to a PPT Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform demanded answers about Frey’s “ties to China” in a September letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
 
Heavily-redacted legal analysis revealed in Agency FOIA documents show the ethics officials wrestled with the challenge Frey’s continued relationship with the Chinese university presented to Emoluments Clause limitations. The university’s tenuous independence from the Chinese government has come under increased pressure over the last year as the regime in Beijing began implementing its strict national security law, leading to academic freedom and human rights concerns, a point EPA appears to be attempting to moot. While the Agency had not yet provided the legal basis for their decision permitting Frey to maintain this relationship, this recent development suggests that the unexpected transparency of the issue from PPT and House Oversight members has forced the agency leadership and the White House to begin reversing course.
 
Dr. Chris Frey is currently the EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Policy in the Office of Research and Development (ORD) and has been nominated to be Assistant Administrator for Research and Development at ORD. The Ethics Agreement he signed that contains his pledge to resign from his post at HKUST upon confirmation was posted on the Office of Government Ethics website on Saturday, October 9.

“This development constitutes a very small step in the right direction, and likely came about only because Protect the Public’s Trust brought the issue to light and members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform forcefully pressed EPA and the White House on it,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust said. “The American public has very legitimate questions concerning why a high-level official at EPA was ever allowed to maintain an employment relationship with an arm of the Chinese government while working at the agency. The responses from EPA leadership indicate they are completely oblivious to the idea that the relationship could be the least bit problematic. While these officials may not recognize any distinction between institutions in the U.S., England or Canada and those in China, Russia or Iran, the American public certainly does. We plan to continue to seek answers to the many troubling questions the American public has about this episode.” 

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