Watchdog amps up call for Wheeler lobbying probes

By: Corbin Hiar, E&E News, March 12, 2019

A left-leaning watchdog group escalated its calls today for investigations of EPA chief Andrew Wheeler and his former lobbying firm.

In a follow-up complaint sent to the clerk of the House, the secretary of the Senate and — for the first time — the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, the Campaign for Accountability (CfA) requested investigations of potential violations of lobbying laws and statements made to the federal government by Wheeler and Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting, where he worked prior to joining EPA.

At issue is lobbying Wheeler and Faegre did for Energy Fuels Resources Inc. regarding the hotly disputed boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument. The company owns uranium mining claims inside the original boundaries of the Utah monument as well as an idled uranium mine and the nation’s only processing mill for the nuclear power fuel just outside of it.

The firm acknowledged just last year that Wheeler lobbied the Interior Department in July 2017 after CfA filed a complaint with congressional officials, citing reporting by The Washington Post (E&E News PM, Sept. 4, 2018).

Sent a day before the House Natural Resources Committee is set to review the Trump administration’s decision to shrink Bears Ears, CfA’s latest complaint centers on more previously undisclosed lobbying by Wheeler, this time uncovered by Roll Call (E&E Daily, March 11).

The newspaper found Wheeler had first contacted Interior on behalf of Energy Fuels in March 2017, before the department had formally begun its monuments review.

That lobbying didn’t appear in second-quarter 2017 lobbying disclosures Faegre initially filed in July 2017 or amended filings in August 2017 or August 2018.

“Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting and Andrew Wheeler committed serious violations of the Lobbying Disclosure Act by failing to disclose lobbying contacts they made with a covered executive branch official at the Interior Department in connection with their successful effort to change the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument for the commercial benefit of Energy Fuels Resources, Inc.,” CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens wrote in the complaint.

“Therefore, CfA respectfully requests that you initiate an investigation and take all appropriate action to ensure compliance with the Act … and determine whether Faegre Baker and Mr. Wheeler intentionally submitted erroneous reports,” said Stevens, who previously worked for former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

It’s unclear whether the House clerk or Senate secretary have taken action on CfA’s past complaints. Representatives of the officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in D.C., said the office “has no comment on the request.”

Lobbying violations are punishable by a fine of up to $200,000 per violation or up to five years in prison, although few are ever prosecuted. There have been only nine known lobbying enforcement cases since 1995, none of which led to jail time, according to a November 2017 blog post by the law firm Holland & Knight LLP.

Running afoul of the False Statements Accountability Act, as CfA alleges Wheeler and Faegre have, can also lead to prison sentences of up to five years.

Meanwhile, EPA defended Wheeler’s past work with the uranium company.

“Acting Administrator Wheeler has been very transparent concerning his work with Energy Fuels Resources, even discussing this during his confirmation process,” spokesman Michael Abboud said in a statement. “He has consistently worked to comply with the Lobbying Disclosure Act; this particular matter involving Energy Fuels Resources and Bears Ears National Monument does not impact his work at EPA as this is not an agency-related issue.”

Wheeler’s former firm, however, suggested it may have to update its second-quarter 2017 filings for a third time.

“Faegre Baker Daniels is conducting a detailed records review and will amend [Lobbying Disclosure Act] reports as appropriate,” spokeswoman Marylee Moore said in an email.

Read the article here.