Quantcast
Energy
Roengrit Kongmuang / Greenpeace

Top Trump Official for Pipeline Safety Profits from Selling Oil Spill Equipment

By Itai Vardi

A newly appointed federal regulator charged with overseeing pipeline safety personally profits from oil spill responses, a DeSmog investigation has found.

Drue Pearce is the acting administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency in the Department of Transportation responsible for ensuring oil and gas pipeline integrity. However, she is also associated with a company specializing in the sale of oil spill equipment.


Pearce, a Republican from Alaska, was appointed on Aug. 7 by the Trump administration to serve as PHMSA's deputy administrator, a position that does not require U.S. Senate confirmation. However, since at the time the administration had yet to nominate an administrator for the agency, Pearce stepped into the role as acting administrator.

In early September, Trump finally nominated, and last Friday the Senate confirmed rail transport executive Howard Elliot as PHMSA administrator. Once Elliot formally takes the helm at PHMSA, Pearce will serve as his deputy.

Drue Pearce speaks on an April 2015 panel about Arctic economy and energy development.C-SPAN Screenshot

Pearce's Oil Spill Business

Business records filed in the state of Alaska and reviewed by DeSmog show that since 2009 Pearce and her husband, Michael F. Williams, have owned Spill Shield Inc., an Anchorage-based company selling equipment for oil spill responses. The company's website offers various products, including booms, baffles, skimmers, absorbents and oil spill response kits.

The company advertises itself as "the Arctic's preferred partner for environmental compliance products & Oil Spill Response," and says its products "are very popular in small northern communities, in mining industrial and construction industries, and fishing and hunting lodges."

From Spill Shield Inc.'s February 2017 business filings, showing Pearce's and her husband Michael Williams' involvement in the company.

Since the couple first became involved in the company in 2009, Pearce was listed as its president and majority owner. On Sept. 14 this year, over a month after she began serving as PHMSA's acting administrator, her name was removed from Spill Shield's filings. In her place, Pearce's husband has assumed the role of president and majority owner.

Both Pearce and Williams are also registered in Alaska as owning a company by the name of Cloverland LLC, which shares the same Anchorage address as Spill Shield. Company records for Cloverland indicate it is involved in the "sale of environmental response equipment." The relationship between Cloverland LLC and Spill Shield is unclear.

According to government spending records, since 2010 Spill Shield was awarded three different federal contracts. In 2010 and 2015, the company provided waste disposal equipment to the Department of Defense. In 2014 it supplied the Department of Commerce with similar equipment.

Ethical Questions

Adding another layer of complexity to this situation is the fact that Pearce also has a background as a Washington, DC and Anchorage lobbyist. Before her appointment to PHMSA, and in addition to owning Spill Shield, she headed public affairs at the law firm Hart & Holland LLP, where she focused on energy, natural resources and manufacturing industries. Prior to that, she worked as a lobbyist and senior policy advisor for the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP.

In addition, Pearce has a history of moving among politics, government and the private sector. A former state representative and president of the Alaska state Senate, she was appointed by the Bush-Cheney administration to serve as federal coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, an independent federal agency charged with expediting the delivery of natural gas from Alaska to North American markets.

Pearce's husband, Michael Williams, is a former oil executive, who worked at BP for many years.

Government ethics rules define a personal financial interest as instances in which a government employee's immediate family members—including spouses—receive financial gain that may compromise the employee's service of the public interest.

Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that Pearce's situation raises serious red flags.

"It's important and disturbing to learn that a senior Trump administration official has a significant financial interest in oil spills. The fact that it's an appointee's spouse who owns a company, rather than the appointee, does not shield them from conflicts of interest scrutiny in either common sense or the law," Hauser told DeSmog.

"But troublingly," Hauser added, "the law generally allows appointees with particular conflicts of interest to work on issues of broad impact on a given sector even when common sense says that they're hopelessly conflicted. That hole in the law was problematic under Barack Obama and previous presidents and has become catastrophic under Trump. Concern that the power of the federal government to do good is being subverted by people seeking to enrich themselves corrodes our democracy."

DeSmog has requested copies of Pearce's financial disclosure, which executive branch officials must submit to ethics officers upon appointment. On Sept. 26, a representative of the Department of Transportation's ethics office told DeSmog that Pearce needed to "clarify a couple of items on the report" and have the disclosure certified. The official said that the document will be provided to DeSmog "ASAP," but at the time of publication it has yet to be supplied.

DeSmog also inquired whether, as acting administrator, Pearce filed an ethics agreement, which would detail which steps she plans to take in order to mitigate any potential conflicts.

In response, a PHMSA spokesperson said that Pearce will recuse herself from involvement in instances that might affect her finances.

"In accordance with executive branch ethics laws, Ms. Pearce timely filed a Public Financial Disclosure Report (OGE Form 278e) that is under review by agency ethics officials," the spokesperson said. "Under the ethics laws, Ms. Pearce is recused from participating in any particular matter that would have a direct and predictable effect upon the financial interests of any entity in which she holds a financial interest. Only Presidential appointees who are confirmed by the Senate file Ethics Agreements; here, because Ms. Pearce is not a Senate-confirmed appointee, she does not have an Ethics Agreement."

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
A train at Metro-North Railroad's Croton-Harmon station, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 30, 2012. Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York / CC BY 2.0

The Big Apple Loses to Big Oil as Judge Dismisses Climate Liability Suit

A federal judge ruled on Thursday in favor of a motion by five big oil companies to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by New York City, which demanded they pay the costs of adapting the city's infrastructure to climate change, The New York Times reported.

The ruling comes nearly a month after a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a similar case brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO
Brian Smith and his cousin Hughes, both fifth generation soybean farmers in Mississippi County, Arkansas, stand in soybean fields their family tend to that show signs of having been affected by dicamba use in August, 2017. Getty Images

New Dicamba Drift Estimate: 1.1 Million Acres Damaged Already in 2018

A University of Missouri report released Thursday estimates that drift damage from the pesticide dicamba has occurred across 1.1 million acres of agricultural crops, trees and other plants so far this year.

This comes less than a year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many states introduced additional restrictions meant to prevent off-target damage from the pesticide. Last year dicamba drift wreaked havoc on a reported 3.6 million acres of soybean crops not genetically engineered to resist the notoriously drift-prone pesticide.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Andreas Gücklhorn

Most Popular Energy Source? Everyone Loves Solar

By John Rogers

A recent survey shows yet again that solar panels (and wind turbines) have a level of bipartisan popularity that would be the envy of any politician. That means we'll have something safe to talk about at the next barbecue after all.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Moon with orange-colored troposphere band, the lowest and most dense portion of the earth's atmosphere. NASA

‘Powerful Evidence’ of Global Warming’s Effect on Seasons Found in Troposphere

By Daisy Dunne

Scientists studying the troposphere—the lowest level of the atmosphere—have found "powerful evidence" that climate change is altering seasonal temperatures.

A study published in Science finds that climate change has caused an increase in the difference between summer and winter temperatures across North America and Eurasia over the past four decades.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Susan Hedman, administrator of EPA's Region 5 during the Flint water crisis, testifies before congress. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

EPA Watchdog Finds Agency Failed in Flint Water Crisis

A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) internal watchdog organization published Thursday argued that the EPA needed to step up its monitoring of state drinking water in the aftermath of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, CBS reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Emilie Chen / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise

By Jason Bittel

The news coming out of East Africa's Virunga Mountains these days would have made the late (and legendary) conservationist Dian Fossey very happy. According to the most recent census, the mountain gorillas introduced to the world in Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey's book and the film about her work, have grown their ranks from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Add another couple hundred apes living in scattered habitats to the south, and their population as a whole totals more than 1,000. Believe it or not, this makes the mountain gorilla subspecies the only great apes known to be increasing in number.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
The Florida manatee is one of the animals currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. USFWS / Southeast

Trump Administration Announces Sweeping Proposal to Weaken Endangered Species Act

A week after House Republicans announced legislation intended to weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Trump administration joined the attack with a proposal environmentalists say would favor developers over vulnerable plant and animal species.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Denver will get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Robert Kash / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Denver to Go 100 Percent Renewable by 2030

Denver became the 73rd city in the U.S. to commit to 100 percent renewable energy when Mayor Michael Hancock announced the goal in his State of the City speech Monday, The Denver Post reported.

The commitment is part of the city's larger 80×50 Climate Action Plan unveiled by Hancock Tuesday, which seeks to reduce Denver's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2050.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!