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Senior EPA Official to Become Lobbyist

September 04, 2003|Elizabeth Shogren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — One week after the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was easing an important air pollution control program, a company that stands to benefit most from the policy change has hired a senior EPA official.

Atlanta-based Southern Co., which owns coal-fired power plants in the Southeast, said Wednesday that it had hired John Pemperton, the chief of staff for the EPA office in charge of air pollution programs.

Southern was one of the companies most active in lobbying the EPA to change the "new source review" provision of the Clean Air Act, which determines when a facility must install pollution control equipment. The company is the subject of a pending EPA lawsuit over noncompliance with the rule.

Environmental groups said Pemperton's job change illustrated the strong ties between polluting industries and the Bush administration's environmental team.

"There's no decent interval," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund's Environmental Integrity Project and former head of the EPA's enforcement division. "The ink isn't even dry on new source review. This seems so blatant. This is a big rule, and the company has lobbied for it really hard."

The EPA is suing Southern Co. for violations at eight of its plants, as part of a wide enforcement effort launched in 1999 with Schaeffer's help. It is not yet clear how the revised policy for "new source review" will influence those lawsuits.

Pemperton will be director of federal affairs in Southern's Washington office, said company spokeswoman Tiffany Gilstrap. In that role, Pemperton is likely to lobby the Senate but not the EPA, she said.

It is not unusual for political appointees at federal agencies to leave their posts to lobby Congress on behalf of industries or other special interests, including environmental groups. But Pemperton's job switch was notable because it happened so soon after the EPA made a major policy change sought by the company.

In fact, Pemperton was talking to Southern about joining the company as the EPA was finalizing its new policy, Gilstrap said. "We've been in talks with him over the last couple of weeks related to the career change," Gilstrap said. She did not disclose his new salary.

EPA spokeswoman Lisa Harrison said Pemperton "recused himself from all issues involving the utility industry, like [new source review], as soon as he began discussing any future job."

She also said that Pemperton said he had "played a minimal role" in developing the changes to the new source review policy.

Pemperton was one of two senior EPA political appointees whose job switch to industry lobbyist was announced Wednesday.

Ed Krenik, the associate administrator for congressional and intergovernmental relations, will join the law firm of Bracewell & Patterson, where he will lobby on behalf of industries regulated by the EPA. Krenik said he might lobby on behalf of Southern Co., a client of the firm.

Krenik said he did not believe that there was any conflict of interest in his job switch. Government ethics rules require that he and Pemperton refrain from lobbying the EPA on any issues where they were directly involved in making decisions. Krenik said he did not think he would face many restrictions, because he was not responsible for major policy decisions. "I can't think of anything off the top of my head," he said.

John Walke, director of the clean-air project at Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group, said: "Industry bought and paid for the Bush administration's assault on our clean-air protections, so it's fitting that one of the nation's biggest polluters should reward this EPA official by putting him on its payroll.

"Unfortunately, it's the American people who will pay with more asthma, respiratory disease, poisoned lakes and smoggy cities," added Walke, a former EPA official.

But Scott Segal, a lawyer at Bracewell & Patterson who has been a high-profile lobbyist on new source review, branded as hypocritical those individuals who left the EPA for environmental groups.

"I do think this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black," Segal said. "Many of the same critics speaking against these EPA officials themselves once left the agency for environmental organizations."

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