Yet Another EPA Official Added to Watchdog’s Ethics Waiver Tracker

EPA Attorney earned apparent rebuke from Agency ethics official for attempting to stretch the bounds of the de facto waiver

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced the addition of another appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to its Ethics Waiver Tracker. The EPA’s Principal Deputy General Counsel, Melissa Hoffer, was granted the ability “to make policy decisions as to whether or not to continue or pursue litigation,” for more than three dozen cases involving her former employer, some of which she may have participated in personally and substantially.

The “impartiality determination” allowed Ms. Hoffer to participate in meetings and discussions regarding the “policy decisions” related to these cases, though she was still barred from participation related to the underlying merits of the cases. Yet, even with this flexibility, the EPA’s senior ethics official still had to clarify the boundaries as agency attorneys identified ways they could cross the line. “Once you determine that a case is on their recusal list,” the official intoned, “don’t interact with them on that case. Full stop.”

While the de facto ethics waiver was signed on January 19, 2021, the day before the new Administration began, the Agency had yet to disclose publicly that the EPA’s top lawyer was participating in particular matters involving her former employer. The documents were released by the Agency in response to FOIA requests for ethics records by PPT and other watchdog organizations.

“It’s clear from the documents we’ve obtained that the breadth and scope of the potential conflicts the EPA’s incoming political appointees bring with them are taxing their career ethics staff,” declared Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, Michael Chamberlain. “Unfortunately, these documents are just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve discovered several instances in which high-level political leadership pushed the envelope and operated well into the gray areas of their ethics restrictions, and possibly beyond. This behavior is a far cry from what the American public should expect from the self-described most ethical administration in history.”

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