EPA

Enforcement pick shrugs off conflict-of-interest concerns

President Trump's pick to lead U.S. EPA's enforcement office is promising to avoid politics and enforce the law if confirmed to the job.

In written responses to senators' questions obtained by E&E News, Susan Bodine, Trump's nominee for assistant administrator of enforcement and compliance assurance, answered dozens of queries on budget proposals, climate change and conflicts of interest.

Yesterday, Bodine, who has been chief counsel on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee since 2015, took a step closer to full Senate confirmation. Her nomination was approved in a party-line vote of 11-10 on the EPW panel (Greenwire, July 12).

In written questions, committee Democrats pressed Bodine on whether she would steer clear of political influence as head of EPA enforcement. Ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) asked if she agreed to shield the office from politics, given Administrator Scott Pruitt's ties to fossil fuel companies like Devon Energy Corp., as well as Trump properties having been subject to EPA enforcement actions.

"Yes," Bodine responded.

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She also said in another response that she has "a deep respect" for EPA career staff, given her prior service as head of EPA's solid waste office during the George W. Bush administration. Bodine said she would employ "the same management style" and seek input from and listen to career staff.

Bodine was also quizzed about Trump's proposed budget cuts for the EPA enforcement office — reducing its funds by almost 24 percent, down to $419 million in fiscal 2018 — resulting in 757 full-time employees being fired from the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), according to Carper.

She responded that the president's budget includes $12 million for voluntary early retirement and that 20 percent of the agency's workforce is at or over retirement age. In addition, Bodine said she understands that EPA expects to see "significant reductions" in the number of employees from buyouts, retirements and the continuing hiring freeze.

There has been speculation that under Pruitt, EPA will shutter its enforcement office and return its various duties to the other program offices in the agency (E&E Daily, Feb. 9). Bodine said she had not heard of those plans.

"I am not aware of any plans to close OECA and return enforcement duties to the program offices," Bodine said.

In addition, she said she wasn't aware of plans to close any of the agency's regional offices.

Bodine also took the chance in her written responses to tout her work on EPW. She said she helped draft amendments to the Senate energy bill in response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., as well as made sure to include provisions in the Senate's Water Resources Development Act to reduce lead contamination.

Further, Bodine dismissed concerns that budget cuts sought by the Trump administration would hamstring efforts to clean up the country's most polluted sites.

"If I am confirmed, OECA will continue to pursue and enter into settlements with parties responsible for cleanup action," she said. Bodine added that the cleanup program's trust fund has more than $3.6 billion on the books "as a result of successful OECA enforcement actions."

The White House proposed funding Superfund cleanups at about $516 million, down from nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal 2017. But the House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill released earlier this week would actually increase Superfund spending by $27.6 million from the fiscal 2017 omnibus deal (E&E News PM, July 11).

Bodine also disputed suggestions the legal and lobbying work she and OECA Deputy Assistant Administrator Patrick Traylor have done for industry in the past could pose a conflict of interest.

"If confirmed, I would have no problem taking appropriate enforcement action against any company," she said.

Carper noted that before coming to EPW, Bodine was a lobbyist with Barnes & Thornburg LLP, where she represented Saint-Gobain Containers Inc. In 2010, Saint-Gobain agreed to pay a $2.25 million civil penalty to settle a case that alleged Clean Air Act violations by 15 company facilities for glass bottle manufacturing. In addition, one of the firm's plastics division sites is now being considered for a Superfund designation.

But Bodine said "my representation of Saint-Gobain Containers related to the encouragement of glass recycling, not regulatory matters." Further, she said, "the Saint Gobain Performance Plastics company referred to in your question is a separate entity that I have never represented."

The nominee also defended her work for the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group whose member companies have hundreds of EPA enforcement actions issued against them.

"My representation of AFPA involved working with EPA to ensure that the forest products industry can continue to use secondary material like biomass as a fuel in their boilers," she said.

"In states with a large forest products industry, like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and Oregon, biomass from forest products residuals is an important fuel source. For example, it is used by the city of Burlington, Vt., as well as by my son's alma mater, Middlebury College."

Asked about how Traylor, a former partner at Hogan Lovells LLP, could regulate past clients such as Dominion Energy Inc., Koch Industries Inc. and TransCanada Corp., Bodine said, "If confirmed, I will make sure that all OECA staff recuse themselves from cases in which they have a conflict of interest and abide by their obligations under federal ethics laws and regulations and, where applicable," President Trump's ethics order.

Climate change

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pressed Bodine on climate change, asking whether she believes, as Trump has said, that it is a "hoax."

"The climate has always been changing," she said. She later answered Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that "yes," she believes climate change is real.

While Bodine did not explicitly recognize a causal relationship between fossil fuels and global warming, she said she would work to ensure that entities are in compliance with environmental regulations, like greenhouse gas reporting rules.

"If confirmed, I will work to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations, including climate-related regulations," she said.

Bodine said she supports the president's decision to leave the Paris climate agreement.

"Given the uncertainty over the accuracy of the climate models, particularly over sensitivity of temperature to CO2, I do not believe it is appropriate to mandate a complete overhaul of the U.S. energy portfolio and constrain our gross domestic product," she said.

Bodine said some have estimated that such actions "could cost the U.S. economy nearly $3 trillion over the next several decades — while leaving U.S. manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage with other countries that are not similarly constrained."

Bodine was also asked about whether she would commit to EPA's role in ensuring the United States plays "a leadership role" in protecting the global environment. She responded, "If confirmed, I will enforce U.S. law."

Sanders also probed Bodine on how she would handle EPA's proposed budget cuts and a move to state sovereignty over environmental protection.

Bodine said she agreed with a paper put out by the Environmental Council of the States on so-called cooperative federalism. In the report, ECOS outlines a vision for EPA and states to work collectively to protect the environment and public health, rather than EPA sending down mandates from on high (E&E News PM, June 12).

Twitter: @KevinBogardus Email: kbogardus@eenews.net

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