EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s history of lobbying for International Paper Co. and Xcel Energy Inc., among other companies, means he is recused from working on 45 Superfund sites, according to new agency data.
Some attorneys say recusals generally don’t affect the Environmental Protection Agency leadership’s ability to run the Superfund program, but for community advocates, the recusals can lead to a game of musical chairs in conversations about sites across the country.
In a meeting last year between Wheeler and Trump’s nominee to head the Office of Land and Emergency Management, former Dow counsel Peter Wright, each had to leave the room at different points, depending on what Superfund site was being discussed, said Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.
Her advocacy organization and community advocates from Superfund sites around the country meet with EPA officials quarterly, according to Gibbs.
Sites listed on the National Priorities List, also known as Superfund sites, are among the most contaminated in the country. The overall list includes the Gowanus Canal in New York, San Jacinto River Waste Pits in Texas, and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The list of sites Wheeler is recused from includes the San Jacinto site, as well as groundwater contamination in Libby, Mont., and Casmalia Resources in California. All but one of the 45 sites is related to International Paper.
Peter Wright, who is working at the EPA as special counsel in the administrator’s office while he awaits Senate confirmation, is recused from 300 sites, which include Superfund and other hazardous waste sites.