E&C Leaders Launch Investigation of Secretive Front Group UARG and Its Ties to EPA Officials
Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) sent a series of letters today to eight utility companies and the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth (Hunton) requesting information and documents related to their relationship with the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG), a secretive front group funded by utility companies and devoted to rolling back Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations.
The three Committee leaders want to know how UARG operates and whether Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials William Wehrum and David Harlow – who formerly represented UARG as Hunton attorneys – continue to illicitly serve their old client in their new capacities at EPA. Wehrum currently serves as the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, while Harlow serves as the Office of Air and Radiation’s Senior Counsel.
“We are concerned that two former employees of your firm — William Wehrum and David Harlow — may have violated federal ethics rules by helping reverse EPA’s position in ongoing litigation,” wrote Pallone, Tonko and DeGette in their letter to Hunton. “The Office of Air and Radiation’s agenda appears remarkably similar to the substantive agenda advanced by a group housed at your firm known as the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG). These allegations have raised substantial questions regarding whether Mr. Wehrum and Mr. Harlow are properly carrying out the CAA as directed by Congress, or instead changing Agency policies and programs to benefit former clients.”
Many industry interests stand to profit significantly from the Trump EPA’s deregulatory agenda, especially the coal industry, which is of central importance to the members of UARG. Hunton receives millions of dollars every year from UARG members. The Committee leaders wrote that although Hunton claims to represent UARG in administrative and judicial proceedings, UARG materials recently revealed raise questions about the legal status of UARG and whether it is actually the members of UARG that are Hunton’s clients.
As part of their investigation, the three Committee leaders are requesting copies of all communications between the law firm and current EPA officials, as well as past communications Wehrum and Harlow had with EPA during their tenure at Hunton.
In their letter to the eight utility companies, the Committee leaders expressed concern over each company’s involvement with UARG.
“UARG has avoided any transparency, with details of its funding and internal organization only recently revealed,” the three Committee leaders wrote to each of the utilities. “Because of your company’s participation in UARG, we are writing to request certain materials from your company to assist the Committee in its investigation of these issues.”
As part of the investigation, each letter requests documents and responses to a series of questions from each of the utilities, including:
- What is the source of the funds your company contributes to UARG; are these ratepayer or shareholder monies?
- If you have used ratepayer funds, has the public utility commission in each state in which you operate specifically approved the use of such funds for this purpose?
- Please explain how your substantial annual contributions to UARG are consistent with your obligations to ratepayers.
- All documents exchanged and communications between employees of your company and any of the current or former EPA employees on a list attached to the letter.
- All documents relating to the legal status of UARG.
- All documents relating to UARG between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2007, and since November 9, 2016.
The letters sent to each entity are below:
- Ameren Corporation
- American Electric Power
- DTE Energy
- Hunton Andrews Kurth
- Southern Company Services
- Tennessee Valley Authority
- Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association
- Vistra Energy