EXCLUSIVE: Watchdog Demands Investigation Into Top Biden EPA Official

  • A watchdog is demanding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) probe whether a top EPA official violated a key federal ethics pledge, according to a complaint obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation. 
  • Joseph Goffman, the acting head of the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), replied to two former Harvard University colleagues who had asked for favors, emails obtained by the watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) that were shared with the DCNF show. 
  • “Not only do some of these conversations deserve scrutiny by investigators for possibly crossing ethics lines, they also reinforce the perception that the former colleagues of a high-ranking official such as Joe Goffman — who are at Harvard, no less — have access to information and to powerful officials that just aren’t available to normal folks,” said Michael Chamberlain, director of PPT. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should investigate whether a top EPA official violated a key federal ethics pledge, watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) said in a complaint Wednesday obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Joseph Goffman, the acting head of the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR), replied to two Harvard University colleagues who were asking for favors in 2021, according to emails obtained by PPT that were shared with the DCNF. The watchdog is now urging the EPA’s inspector general to probe whether Goffman, who President Joe Biden tapped to lead the OAR, violated the federal ethics pledge, which bars appointees from dealing in matters “directly and substantially related” with their former employer for two years.

“Joseph Goffman is clearly someone who should know where the lines are without having to be lectured by ethics officials for crossing them,” Michael Chamberlain, director of PPT, told the DCNF. “Yet we believe these documents demonstrate a cavalier approach to his obligations.”

“Not only do some of these conversations deserve scrutiny by investigators for possibly crossing ethics lines, they also reinforce the perception that the former colleagues of a high-ranking official such as Joe Goffman — who are at Harvard, no less — have access to information and to powerful officials that just aren’t available to normal folks,” Chamberlain also said.

PPT’s complaint cited two email threads it claims Goffman should have recused himself from that should be probed by the EPA’s inspector general and Office of General Counsel.

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In one instance, Harvard professor Joseph Aldy contacted Goffman in March 2021 seeing if the official could help with his student’s research on the EPA’s involvement in artificial intelligence rule making, emails show. Even though Goffman should have “immediately” recused himself and forwarded the email to his chief of staff, according to PPT, he responded on the thread and copied two EPA economists.

“Thanks Joe! Shruti. let me suggest you follow up with Al and Alex on this,” Aldi emailed Goffman after he copied the two economists. “Al and Alex, thanks in advance for any assistance you can offer. And I’d be happy to discuss further if you’d like.”

Goffman’s decision to grant a favor to his former colleague was “antithetical” to the Biden administration’s ethics pledge, according to the watchdog complaint. The official gave special “treatment” to his former employer, the complaint alleges.

“Several other schools with similar programs would probably also appreciate the opportunity to have priority access to an audience at the senior ranks of a federal agency to pick their brains,” PPT said in its complaint. “Yet those schools do not appear to have Joe Goffman’s email or his willingness to grant favors on a whim.”

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment on the complaint. A spokesman for the agency told the DCNF Tuesday Goffman “has and will continue to appropriately follow through with the necessary steps to comply with that commitment, in coordination with the Agency’s ethics officials.”

The EPA should also probe whether Goffman violated his ethics pledge in February 2021, according to the watchdog, when another former Harvard colleague emailed him.

Kathy Fallon Lambert, the former colleague, emailed Goffman she “would be happy to answer any questions” on a letter she submitted in connection to a congressional hearing called “A Smarter Investment: Pathways to a Clean Energy Future.” The letter by Lambert, who is an adviser at Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment, was on lowering carbon emissions.

“Hi, Kathy,” Goffman wrote to Lambert. “Thanks so much for looping me in on this; it’s great that you sent this letter to House Energy leadership. I will inquire with colleagues here as to whether they would benefit from a briefing. Great work, in any event.”

PPT’s request for an ethics investigation comes on the heels of its August 2021 complaint over an email thread between Goffman and Lambert in April. Lambert sought to meet with Goffman about “mercury science,” and Goffman told an EPA official “I think we should do this one.”

However, Goffman then emailed an ethics official asking them to “advise on how to cure” the ethics pledge violation and the official informed him he “should have been more alert,” according to emails obtained by PPT. The official told Goffman the ethics office will “have to unring the bell” and do so without his “knowledge or involvement,” emails show.

Goffman did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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Supplemental Information an… by Gabe Kaminsky

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