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House Oversight Leader Probes Oil Industry Ties to CEQ Proposal (1)

April 3, 2020, 3:30 PMUpdated: April 3, 2020, 6:15 PM

The leader of a House oversight panel wants the White House to explain the fossil fuel industry’s role in shaping the climate change part of its environmental permitting revision.

In a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s environment subcommittee, said on Friday he was “concerned that the fossil fuel industry has had outsized influence” over the agency’s January proposal, which would affect permitting for major infrastructure projects like pipelines and roads.

The agency, known as CEQ, coordinates environmental efforts for the president and works with other agencies to develop environment-related policies.

Rouda asked for the minutes of a 2018 meeting between CEQ representatives and various oil companies to discuss the proposal. BP Plc, ExxonMobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp., Phillips 66, and the American Petroleum Institute were part of those discussions.

“Although the public is aware of the attendees of the meeting, the substance of what was discussed remains shrouded in secrecy,” Rouda wrote in the letter.

The White House proposal would require a project’s environmental effects to be “reasonably foreseeable” and have a “reasonably close causal relationship” to the project. Democrats have said they consider that language to be code for excluding many climate change impacts.

“President Trump promised to drain the swamp, but his administration prioritizes from oil, coal, and gas corporations and their lobbyists—not the American people,” Rouda said. “Time and time again, this administration has put fossil fuel profits over the health and safety of the American families they are supposed to serve and protect.”

CEQ did not immediately respond to an interview request.

‘Predictable,’ Faster Process

CEQ’s leader, Mary Neumayr, has said the proposal would still allow consideration of greenhouse gases. In a January interview, Neumayr said that a faster review is fairer to project applicants—who now must wait an average of 4 1/2 years to get a final decision—and a boon to communities that need infrastructure and jobs.

“It’s a priority for this administration to have a process that’s predictable and transparent and timely, so that we can get to a decision,” Neumayr said during the interview. “It may not always be the decision that the applicant has requested, but it’s important that they get a decision.”

Rouda also expressed concern that CEQ’s general counsel, Viktoria Seale, is married to John Seale, a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council, an industry group. Both the ACC and CEQ deny that John Seale lobbied his wife’s agency, but “CEQ could not provide documentation of a written recusal from Ms. Seale when requested,” Rouda wrote.

CEQ spokesman Daniel Schneider has said that Seale’s name appears on a lobbying disclosure report, along with ACC’s other registered lobbyists, listing out all of the activities in which ACC is engaged.

“John has never been to CEQ to lobby on any matters, nor is NEPA a part of his portfolio at ACC. Ms. Seale has not met with ACC either,” Schneider said.

(Updated with quote from Rep. Rouda in 7th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloomberglaw.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com

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