The head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) southeastern regional office has been indicted on state ethics charges in Alabama related to his alleged efforts to stop a polluted neighborhood in North Birmingham from being listed on the EPA’s priorities list for contaminated sites.
Last Friday, a Jefferson County, Alabama, grand jury indicted both EPA Region 4 Administrator Trey Glenn and his former business associate Scott Phillips on ethics charges. The indictments center around previous work the two performed as consultants to stop the 35th Avenue site from being listed on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List (NPL), according to AL.com.
Prior to joining the Trump administration, Glenn faced numerous controversies while running Alabama’s state environmental agency and as a private consultant.
In 2017, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt selected Glenn to head the agency’s Region 4, which oversees the agency’s operations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He was sworn into office in August 2017.
In a statement announcing the appointment, Pruitt said Glenn “will help us carry out President Trump’s vision of creating a more streamlined and efficient EPA that focuses on the Agency’s core mission, while also providing more regulatory certainty to our nation’s businesses.”
Citing a news release issued by the Alabama Ethics Commission, E&E News reported Tuesday that the charges against Glenn include conspiracy to break ethics law with Phillips, who sat on the board of Alabama’s environmental agency before stepping down last year.
Other alleged violations include soliciting a thing of value “from a principal, lobbyist or subordinate, and receiving money in addition to that received in one’s official capacity,” the release said.
The EPA had not responded to a request for comment from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published.
During their time at Southeast Engineering and Consulting LLP, Phillips and Glenn worked as consultants for coal firm Drummond Company, in connection with law firm Balch & Bingham, in their efforts to oppose the listing of the neighborhood on the EPA’s Superfund NPL.
Drummond Vice President David Roberson and Balch & Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert were convicted of bribery, money laundering, and other charges in relation to efforts to oppose the listing, which included paying a state lawmaker — former Alabama state Rep. Oliver Robinson (D) — to encourage people not to get their soil tested to see if it contained high levels of contaminants.
In October, Gilbert was sentenced to five years in federal prison, followed by a supervised release period of two years, AL.com reported. Roberson was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, followed by one year of supervised release. Each was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine, and ordered to complete 100 hours per year of community service while on supervised release.
Starting in 2013, the EPA was investigating the neighborhood for potential listing on the NPL to receive priority funding for Superfund cleanup of contaminated soil in poor residential neighborhoods largely populated by African Americans surrounded by numerous heavy industrial operations.
The EPA named five industries, including Drummond Company, as potentially responsible parties that could be forced to pay for the cleanup. Drummond, through law firm Balch & Bingham, hired a company run by Glenn and Phillips as consultants to assist in their efforts to defeat the proposed listing of the Superfund site.
Glenn previously headed the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. After leaving the state environmental agency, Glenn worked as a consultant for a number of industries.
An Alabama newspaper columnist described the selection of Glenn to head the EPA’s southeastern regional office as “downright Orwellian.” Glenn is known for having pulled back on enforcing environmental laws in a state already beset with pollution and environmental justice issues. He has also faced other ethics investigations during his career as an Alabama government employee.
An ethics complaint in 2007, for example, alleged Glenn and his family traveled to Walt Disney World and Hilton Head, South Carolina on private flights paid for by public relations firm Matrix, while Glenn worked for the Alabama Office of Water Resources prior to taking over as director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, according to AL.com. Matrix represented Malcolm Pirnie, an environmental engineering firm that did work for the Alabama Office of Water Resources.
Glenn’s “obliviousness to ethics and decorum” prompted a former Alabama Department of Environmental Management lawyer in 2007 to push for a policy to teach him “right from wrong” and to demand that he stop accepting gifts while he served as director of the department, John Archibald, a columnist for the Alabama Media Group, wrote last August, “since the director apparently does not have the good judgment to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”