The lawyer tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Superfund task force, which oversees the cleanups of the most polluted places in the U S. worked with some of the top chemical and plastics manufacturer suspected of creating some of those polluted sites.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt created the Superfund Task Force to change how the agency manages cleanups at over 1,300 toxic sites.
Steven D. Cook is the newly appointed chair of the Superfund Task Force. For over 20 years, Cook worked as an in-house corporate lawyer for LyondellBasell Industries, one of the biggest plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world. The chemical company and its subsidiaries are in EPA’s list as suspects for dumping/ discharging into over three dozen Superfund sites.
Trump signed an executive order shortly after his inauguration that bars former corporate lawyers and lobbyists from taking a government post related to the businesses of their private clients within two years from their resignation.
However, The Associated Press reports that almost half of the current political appointees at EPA have industry ties. The AP tracked over 60 EPA hires over the last year about one-third were lawyers or registered lobbyists for fossil fuel products, chemical manufacturers and other companies subject to EPA regulation.
The AP report also stated that in April, Cook signed a memorandum that inhibits his participation in regulatory matters related to his former employer except in cases where the decision would also affect at least five other companies.
EPA’s spokesman Lincoln Ferguson told the AP that Cook, like other agency officials, should follow the agency’s ethics. He added that all employees resolve any potential conflict of interest with the EPA’s ethics office.
In March, the AP reported that at least 37 ethics waivers were released by Don McGahn, White House counsel, to key administration officials that included three EPA employees. The waivers allowed the officials in various agencies to regulate their previous employers even if they signed recusals. The report did not specify if Cook got a waiver. Ferguson had no reply to AP’s questions on the subject.
Two subsidiaries of LyondellBasell have paid penalties for pollution-related offenses. In 2010, Lyondell Chemical Co., the Houston-based subsidiary paid $250 million to settle environmental claims and cleanup funds for 15 properties as required in the bankruptcy procedures.
In 2007, another subsidiary, Equistar Chemicals, spent over $125 million on pollution controls and cleanup costs to deal with various water, air and hazardous waste non-compliances at seven petrochemical plants in Iowa, Texas, Louisiana and Illinois. Records show that Cook was the primary contact person for Equistar.
Pattie Shieh-Lance, a LyondellBasell corporate spokeswoman in Houston said that the company has settled its Superfunds obligations over a decade ago.
Cook is replacing Albert “Kell” Kelly, Pruitt’s business associate and longtime friend, as Superfund Task Force chair. According to an AP report in August, Kelly, who was chairman of SpiritBank in Oklahoma is banned from banking by federal banking regulators.
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