A Jefferson County grand jury has indicted the Southeast regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner for violating state ethics laws.
Charges include multiple violations of Alabama’s Ethics Act, including soliciting a thing of value from a principal, lobbyist or subordinate, and receiving money in addition that received in one’s official capacity, according to the Alabama Ethics Commission.
Before being appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as the Region 4 administrator of the EPA, Trey Glenn worked closely with the Birmingham-based law firm Balch & Bingham and one of its clients, Drummond Co., to fight EPA efforts to test and clean up neighborhoods in north Birmingham and Tarrant.
Likewise, former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips worked with Balch to oppose the EPA. Phillips and Glenn worked together in a company they co-owned, Southeast Engineering & Consulting, at the same time Phillips served on the commission.
Under Alabama ethics law, it is illegal for a lobbyist or a lobbyist’s client, called a principal, to give a public official a thing of value, including a job.
President Donald Trump appointed Glenn lead EPA’s Region 4 in August 2017, after incidents covered in the indictment. That region includes Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
The indictment is not Glenn’s first brush with Alabama ethics laws. In 2007, the Alabama Ethics Commission referred a complaint against Glenn, who then served as director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office for prosecution.
However, in 2008, a Montgomery County grand jury declined to indict Glenn on those charges.
After leaving ADEM in 2009, Glenn co-founded SE&C with Phillips and served as a lobbyist for the Business Council of Alabama.
After he was appointed to the EPA position, Glenn reported income from numerous public and private entities, including the BCA, City of Birmingham, Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority, Matrix LLC, Blue Ridge Partners, Strada and Big Sky Environmental.
Big Sky Environmental made headlines this year after it accepted human feces from New York for disposal at its Adamsville landfill. A train that delivered that refuse stunk up the surrounding community and after national news coverage became known as the “poop train.”
After accepting his appointment at the EPA, Glenn recused himself from north Birmingham environmental issues for one year. Environmental activists and nonprofit watchdog groups have asked Glenn to recuse himself permanently.
Witnesses at trial
In July, a jury in federal court convicted Balch partner Joel Gilbert and Drummond vice president David Roberson on charges they bribed an Alabama lawmaker, Oliver Robinson, to help fight the EPA’s cleanup efforts in Tarrant and north Birmingham.
From 2014 through 2017, Glenn and Phillips worked with those defendants to oppose the EPA efforts, court exhibits and trial testimony showed.
During that trial, prosecutors called Glenn and Phillips as witnesses. Court documents and testimony, in that case, showed that they had worked closely with Balch to push back on the EPA as recently as 2017.
One exhibit in that trial showed that Phillips proposed to “hijack” a north Birmingham community organization that had been working with the EPA to clean up neighborhoods there. During his testimony, Phillips said that by “hijack” he meant “work with.”
In the same exhibit, a PowerPoint slideshow Phillips' company had prepared for Balch, Phillips proposed to “undermine” and “fragment” proponents of the north Birmingham cleanup.
On the witness stand in that trial, Phillips denied knowing that Robinson, a state lawmaker, was being paid by Balch — something even defense attorneys didn’t seem to believe. On cross-examination, defense counsel showed Phillips a memo written to him in 2014 proposing “maybe Oliver Robinson” be hired for community outreach work in north Birmingham.
At the same time Phillips performed this work for Balch and Drummond, he served on the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, which oversees the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
On the AEMC, Phillips sat for meetings on north Birmingham environmental issues, including a 2015 meeting where Robinson spoke against EPA cleanup efforts in north Birmingham.
While serving on the AEMC, Phillips forwarded an advance copy of a presentation by the environmental watchdog group GASP to Glenn, who then forwarded those materials to Gilbert at Balch, trial testimony revealed.
Testimony in that trial also revealed that Phillips helped make introductions for Robinson, including a dinner in which Robinson met with AEMC chairman Lanier Brown to discuss north Birmingham issues.
In the wake of the federal corruption trial, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Rep. Terri Sewell and Sen. Doug Jones have asked the EPA to put the north Birmingham Superfund site on its National Priorities List, a regulatory distinction that would open up more money for cleanup and potentially require area polluters to help pay for cleanup costs.
The Alabama Ethics Commission lead the investigation after being asked for help by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office.
“The Alabama Ethics Commission is committed to working with Alabama’s District Attorneys, and all enforcement agencies, whenever needed and asked to do so, to ensure enforcement of Alabama’s Ethics laws on behalf of the citizens of Alabama; and these indictments are evidence of that,” Alabama Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton said in a press release. “I want to recognize the hard work from the Jefferson County DA’s office which requested our assistance in this important matter; and from our office, Cynthia Raulston, the Commission’s General Counsel, as well as Special Agents Dustin Lansford, Byron Butler and Chief Special Agent Chris Clark for their hard work and dedication to the enforcement of our Ethics laws.”
In separate written statements sent by an employee of the Melton Espy law firm from a personal email account, Phillips and Glenn proclaimed their innocence and vowed to fight the charges against them. A message left for attorney Joe Espy seeking comment was not returned.
The White House released the second volume of the “Fourth National Climate Assessment” last Friday, on a day when much of the country was out shopping or home recovering from the Thanksgiving holiday.
The massive report from the US Global Change Research Program draws on the work of 13 federal agencies – including the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA – and more than 300 scientists.
And the overall message is that climate change is both undeniably real and increasingly costly — and could produce some new challenges for the federal budget.
“The news is predictably bad,” Bloomberg’s Eric Roston said, “but this time the tally comes with a pricetag—one significantly larger than you’ll find at the mall.” Here are some of the economic costs cited in the assessment:
* Assuming the current trajectory continues, climate change will cost the US economy about $500 billion a year by the end of the century.
* Lost wages could cost $160 billion a year, as extreme temperatures generate job losses and reduced productivity in some kinds of work, such as agriculture and construction.
* Rising energy costs could cost an additional $87 billion a year due to increased demand for heating and cooling.
* About $500 billion worth of real estate is at risk from rising sea levels, and damage to infrastructure could cost billions of dollars every year. The destruction of bridges from flooding alone could cost $1.2 billion a year by 2050.
* The loss of natural resources that are currently used for food and recreation will generate billions in losses; for example, damage to coastlines could cost the tourism industry $140 billion a year.
The good news is that there are still steps we can take to reduce these costs, such as dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions. “Future impacts and risks from climate change are directly tied to decisions made in the present,” the assessment says.
It will be difficult to take those steps in the current political environment, however. Asked about the climate report Monday, President Trumps dismissed the whole thing, saying, “Yeah, I don’t believe it,” adding that in his view, the U.S. is “the cleanest” it’s ever been.
(Reuters) - The Trump administration will unveil on Thursday its final plan to roll back offshore drilling safety measures put in place by the Obama administration after the fatal 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst in U.S. history, raising concerns by some groups over potential risks to workers and the environment.
The Interior Department will announce the final revised rule at an afternoon event in Port Fourchon, a Louisiana seaport that services over 90% of the Gulf of Mexico’s deepwater oil production.
Last year, the agency's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement proposed revisions to the 2016 offshore well control rule, which had required the real-time monitoring of operations and certification by third parties of emergency devices, among other measures.
That reflected changes sought by the oil and gas industry, that said the Obama-era rules imposed financial burdens that would curtail future development and production.
The BP Macondo well blowout and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010 killed 11 workers and cost billions of dollars for Gulf Coast restoration.
Environmental groups warned that relaxing the well control rule was reckless and another example of the Trump administration catering to industry demands.
"The Trump administration is putting industry cost savings ahead of safety just weeks after the anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history," said Diane Hoskins, campaign director for Oceana. "We should be implementing new safety reforms, not rolling back the too few safety measures currently in place."
The American Petroleum Institute said this week that voluntary standards already adopted by the oil and gas industry have increased offshore drilling safety.
"This progress goes hand-in-hand with the proposed revisions to a number of offshore regulations to ensure that smarter and more effective regulations are constantly evolving, as we move forward with safe and responsible offshore development,” said Eric Milito, API's vice president for offshore operations.
President Donald Trump on Monday put forth a misleading claim about a drinking water safety rule his administration expects to implement this year that aims to reduce Americans' exposure to lead and copper.
"For the first time in nearly 30 years, we're in the process of strengthening national drinking water standards to protect vulnerable children from lead and copper exposure. Something that has not been done, and we're doing it," Trump said in a speech defending his administration's environmental policies Monday at the White House.
Trump was referring to a rewrite of the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead and Copper Rule that is expected to be released this summer after lengthy delays.
But environmental advocates and experts say the boast is unwarranted — the rule has been revised previously and the major overhaul Trump is referring to has been in the works at the EPA for more than a decade. And his speech, in which he touted his commitment to clean drinking water, omitted his administration's efforts to relax water safety regulations elsewhere.
"It comes amid this ocean of rollbacks of environmental standards," said Erik Olson, a drinking water expert at the NRDC Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Trump administration has convened a task force aimed at reducing lead exposure in children and has ponied up millions in grant and loan funding for states seeking to make water infrastructure investments.
Still, Olson and other environmental advocates reached by NBC News pointed to the rollback of more than a half dozen regulations — particularly targeting the Clean Water Act, the nation's major water source protection law — that they say undermine the safety of U.S. water. In one change, Republicans in Congress helped revoke a rule that prevented coal miners from dumping debris into local streams. In another, the EPA revoked a rule protecting groundwater near certain uranium mines.
The experts said that without seeing the forthcoming revamped Lead and Copper Rule, they can't tell if it will improve water safety. And they said the Trump administration's previous changes to clean water regulations have made them skeptical.
"We don't even know what it is," Olson said. "It's hard for me to believe there's going to be an improvement."
The forthcoming rule revision will decide how water authorities handle the more than 6 million lead pipes still in use nationwide, detecting and preventing poisoning that can occur through drinking water. Experts agree there are no safe levels of lead for children.
Michael Abboud, EPA press secretary, said in a statement that the agency is "working to ensure that the most corrosive pipes in the most at-risk communities will be addressed first." The revised rule "will also consider options for better protecting children from lead exposure," Abboud added.
The EPA first regulated lead levels in drinking water in 1991 — almost 30 years ago, as Trump said. But the rule has seen small revisions since then.
Plans for long-term, major revisions date back to 2005, according to Lynn Thorp, national campaigns director at Clean Water Action, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy. Rewriting the rule has been in the works for years. The EPA National Drinking Water Advisory Council handed over its recommendations for the rule rewrite in December 2015, during President Barack Obama's administration.
"The president is suggesting that one Safe Drinking Water Act regulation — that was already well on its way to being revised — somehow makes up for what we would consider an all-out assault on Clean Water Act protections," Thorp said of Trump's claim Monday.
Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters, said Trump's EPA has slowed enforcement actions, too, undercutting clean water regulations and rules that are still on the books.
"You can have the greatest standards in the world but if you're not enforcing them, it doesn't matter at all. People are still going to be drinking polluted water," she said.
Foote and Olson both said one recent EPA move has made them even more wary.
When the NRDC sued the EPA to get a rule on the books regulating perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel that's been found in drinking water, the agency wrote a rule allowing three to four times more of the chemical than its own Obama-era research said was safe — and more than 20 times higher levels than the state of Massachusetts concluded was safe.
"If that's any indication of what the administration is going to do, we're extremely worried," Olson said.