The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty

Why is a top aide to the EPA chief ‘moonlighting for private clients’?

Updated

Since Donald Trump put Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA, the agency has faced one controversy after another, but today’s is just … bizarre.

Last year, Pruitt hired a Republican political consultant named John Konkus to serve as the EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs. It’s not, however, just a public-relations job. The Washington Post  reported in September that Konkus, despite his lack of environmental policy experience, is in charge of “vetting the hundreds of millions of dollars in grants the EPA distributes annually.”

We learned at the time that Konkus “reviews every award the agency gives out, along with every grant solicitation before it is issued.” As part of his reviews, he looks out for “the double C-word” – climate change – and according to the Post, he’s repeatedly “instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations.”

It’s against this backdrop that the Associated Press reports that the EPA official is also moonlighting for unnamed private-sector clients.

A key aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been granted permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret.

A letter approving outside employment contracts for John Konkus – signed by an EPA ethics lawyer in August – was released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The ethics official noted that Konkus’ outside contracts presented a “financial conflict of interest” and barred him from participating in matters at EPA that would have a “direct and predictable” financial benefit for his clients.

Apparently, Konkus, a former Trump campaign aide who now receives a $145,000 annual salary at the EPA, received permission to work for at least two unnamed clients, with the expectation that this list will grow.

What’s more, according to the AP, he’s not the only one.

Along with the information about Konkus’ side jobs, the House Democrats also got a copy of letter approving similar outside employment for Patrick Davis, another Trump political appointee working as a senior adviser for public engagement in the EPA’s regional office in Denver.

Like Konkus, Davis is a Republican political consultant who led Trump’s presidential campaign in Colorado. According to a 2015 report by ProPublica, Davis was accused two years earlier of defrauding a conservative super PAC called Vote2ReduceDebt, which was funded by an elderly oil tycoon. The group collapsed after Davis allegedly paid nearly $3 million of the PAC’s funds to organizations run by him or his close associates, according to the news report. […]

An EPA ethics lawyer in February 2017 approved of Davis receiving outside compensation for work as sales director for a company called Telephone Town Hall Meeting, which provides services such as robocalls to political campaigns and advocacy groups. The agency redacted how much Davis is to be paid for the agreement, but his outside compensation would also be capped at less than $28,000.

I don’t know how long it’ll take to repair the Environmental Protection Agency, but I have a hunch it’s going to take a while.

Update: Norm Eisen, the chief ethics lawyer in Obama’s White House, described these EPA waivers as “insane,” adding, “In the Obama White House, I even made people quit uncompensated non-profit outside positions because of conflicts risks. This is for-profit work that could conflict with official duties.”

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