Ethics Investigations Opened into Actions of EPA Head Wheeler, Top DOI Officials
Ethics investigations have been opened into the conduct of senior Trump appointees at the nation's top environmental agencies.
The two investigations focus on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and six high-ranking officials in the Department of Interior (DOI), The Hill reported Tuesday. Both of them involve the officials' former clients or employers.
"This is demonstrative of the failures at the very top of this administration to set an ethical tone," Campaign Legal Center Ethics Counsel Delaney Marsco told The Washington Post of the DOI investigation. "When people come to work for government, they're supposed to work on behalf of the public. It's a betrayal of the public trust when senior political appointees seem to give privileged access to their former employers or former clients."
Here's a run-down of the two investigations.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating Wheeler for failing to disclose that he lobbied for Darling Ingredients within two years of assuming his post at the EPA, CNN reported Wednesday.
The Ethics in Government Act mandates that all officials must disclose the sources of any money over $5,000 earned in the two years before their appointment, but Wheeler failed to disclose his work on behalf of the chemical company in 2015 and 2016 while working for Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting. The committee cited Faegre's quarterly disclosure forms as proof that Wheeler had not listed the earnings.
"These documents indicate that you may have improperly omitted Darling from your financial disclosure, and they raise concerns that you may have failed to identify other clients who paid for your service as a lobbyist during the period covered by your disclosure report," House Oversight chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a letter to Wheeler informing him of the investigation.
Darling supplies ingredients for fertilizers, fuel and pet and livestock food, among other products, according to The Hill.
Wheeler also met with Darling in June 2018, while he was serving as deputy administrator at the EPA, according to CNN, but an agency lawyer said this did not violate ethics laws. The EPA did not comment on the investigation to the media and instead said it would respond through the "proper channels," according to CNN.
The DOI Six
Six officials at the DOI are being investigated by the department's Office of Inspector General over meetings with former employers or clients on department-related business, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order early in his term saying all appointees must recuse themselves from matters involving former clients for two years. But the Campaign Legal Center sent a letter to the DOI watchdog in February detailing how six officials had violated that pledge. The Office of Inspector General wrote back to the center April 18 to say an investigation was in process.
Interior's IG has confirmed that it is investigating six Trump political appointees for ethics violations following… https://t.co/QdLxawo6P6— Brendan Fischer (@Brendan Fischer)1556045053.0
"The department takes ethics issues seriously," Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told The Washington Post in an email.
The letter was sent three days after the Office of Inspector General announced it was opening an investigation into newly-confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt after receiving various complaints about his potential conflicts of interest, The Washington Post reported April 15. Bernhardt replaced Ryan Zinke, who resigned as Interior Secretary after an ethics investigation into his conduct was passed on to the Justice Department.
Federal law requires officials to disclose any client over the past two years that paid them more than $5,000 ...Andrew Wheeler apparently failed to disclose a former lobbying client that paid him more than $5,000https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/440299-epa-administrator-failed-to-disclose-former-lobbying-client …
Here is a brief outline of officials implicated in the most recent investigation, as summarized in The Huffington Post.
- White House liaison Lori Mashburn, who attended two private events hosted by her former employer and right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation
- Senior Deputy Director for Intergovernmental and External Affairs. Ben Cassidy, who participated in agency meetings on issues he had lobbied the department about on behalf of the National Rifle Association, including trophy hunting and the designation of national monuments
- Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Doug Domenech, who met with his former employers, a Koch-link think tank called the Texas Public Policy Foundation, about issues over which the foundation was suing DOI
- Former Energy Counselor to Zinke Vincent DeVito, who attended a meeting with a former energy client
- Deputy Director of Interior's Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs Timothy Williams, who participated in a video call with his former employer, who is vice president of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity
- Director of Interior's External Affairs Office Todd Wynn, who had a phone call with a committee member of the oil-funded Council of State Governments, of which he had also been a committee member before taking the DOI job
"An agency's ethical culture depends on ethical leadership. Former Secretary Ryan Zinke and Secretary David Bernhardt, now under investigation himself for ethics violations, have failed to demonstrate adequate ethical behavior at the top of Interior," Matsco said in a statement reported by The Huffington Post. "We hope this investigation will answer whether these officials are working on behalf of the American people or on behalf of the interests that used to pay their salary."
Federal law requires officials to disclose any client over the past two years that paid them more than $5,000 ...A… https://t.co/eyGYPLO60e— Citizens for Ethics (@Citizens for Ethics)1556218875.0
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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