President Obama's nominee for U.S. EPA's second highest post abruptly pulled out of the Senate confirmation process today because of an investigation into the nonprofit group where he once served on the board of directors.
Jon Cannon, a former top EPA lawyer, withdrew from consideration as deputy administrator after learning America's Clean Water Foundation "has become the subject of scrutiny."
"While my service on the board of that now-dissolved organization is not the subject of the scrutiny, I believe the energy and environmental challenges facing our nation are too great to delay confirmation for this position, and I do not wish to present any distraction to the agency," Cannon said in a statement released by EPA.
His withdrawal marks the latest round of problems for the Obama administration's personnel team -- it lost its initial picks to head the Commerce Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Cannon didn't offer other details about the group or who may have taken issue with his role in the nonprofit. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had scheduled a confirmation hearing for tomorrow on Cannon's appointment.
In 2007, the EPA inspector general issued a report questioning more than $25 million in federal grants awarded between 1998 and 2003 to America's Clean Water Foundation for environmental studies of agricultural production facilities, as well as other Clean Water Act monitoring efforts.
The report found that the Clean Water Foundation had not complied with federal grant regulations and had given a contract to a member of its board of directors, Washington consultant Charlie Grizzle, in violation of conflict of interest provisions.
In an interview, Grizzle, president of the Grizzle Co., expressed surprise about Cannon's decision to withdraw from consideration for the EPA job.
"I encouraged Jon to join the board," Grizzle said. "It's like anything else. You're a volunteer to meet a couple times a year for a nonprofit. But it doesn’t excuse any of us from proper oversight."
Grizzle acknowledged that the group had misused funds and had poor accounting, though he added that its work was for "a good cause," trying to to stem pollution from large confined animal feeding operations. He added, "But I think those issues were addressed and put to bed."
The EPA inspector general has completed all of its audits of America's Clean Water Foundation, according to IG spokeswoman Eileen McMahon.
Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for the Senate Environment panel's ranking Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said committee staff had raised the issue of the investigation of Cannon's former group during a meeting on Monday.
"But this announcement came to us as a surprise," Dempsey said of Cannon's withdrawal. "Senator Inhofe had every intention of supporting him in this process."
Staff to committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) referred questions on Cannon's withdrawal to EPA.
In a statement, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "I'm disappointed that Jon Cannon will be unable to serve as deputy administrator, and I thank him for his many years of dedication to the EPA. The administration will move quickly to identify a new candidate who can help us carry out our mission to preserve environmental sustainability and create green jobs as we transition the nation to a clean energy economy."
Betsaida Alcantara, an EPA spokeswoman, declined further comment on Cannon's decision. "The statement speaks for itself," she said. A White House spokesman also declined comment.
Cannon worked at EPA under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before spending three years as the agency's general counsel under President Bill Clinton.
In 1998, Cannon authored a controversial, six-page memo on the agency's authority to establish greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act -- a document that led to a lengthy series of legal petitions and ultimately the landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision on climate change in Massachusetts v. EPA.
At EPA, Cannon also held a variety of senior management positions, including deputy general counsel for litigation and regional operations, deputy assistant administrator for civil enforcement, deputy assistant administrator for the Solid Waste Emergency Response Office, and chief financial officer.
Between stints at EPA, Cannon served as senior counsel at the environmental, land use and litigation law firm Beveridge & Diamond. He most recently taught law at the University of Virginia.
Click here for the EPA's 2007 inspector general report.