Staff Emails Undermine Congressman's Claim of Being 'Blocked' From EPA Summit

Rep. Kildee alleged in television appearances and op-ed the EPA restricted access to summit

Scott Pruitt
Scott Pruitt / Getty Images
May 31, 2018

Official documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon contradict claims made by a House Democrat alleging he and his staff were "blocked" last week from attending a summit on chemicals hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D.), who represents the city of Flint, Mich., and its surrounding areas, sent a letter on Thursday to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins accusing the EPA of wrongdoing in regards to the National Leadership Summit on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). 

The summit, which convened state and federal regulatory officials to discuss how efforts at identifying and responding to PFASa class of potentially harmful man-made chemicals found in thousands of consumer productscould be improved, got off to a rough start when some media outlets, such as the Associated Press, were reportedly barred from attending. 

In his letter, Kildee alleged the EPA attempted to restrict access to the summit for media outlets and members of Congress and asked the inspector general to conduct a formal investigation to determine if any federal laws "concerning open meetings and transparency" were violated by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his staff.

Kildee cited the fact that he was not personally invited to the summit and his staff only being allowed to attend "certain portions" as proof of malicious intent.

"While the EPA selectively invited certain Members of Congress to participate ... I was never invited to attend," Kildee wrote. "My office contacted the EPA's Congressional Affairs Office to inquire about attending, and our office was initially told by the EPA that they were 'optimistic' that we could attend. However, the EPA subsequently would only allow my staff to attend certain portions of the summit, despite the public agenda for the summit inviting 'federal partners and co-regulators.'"

The congressman also claimed that such "actions" served only to enunciate "a disturbing pattern by the Trump administration when it comes to transparency in government."

Kildee's claims, which he repeated in television appearances over the weekend and in an op-ed published in the Detroit Free Press, don't hold up to scrutiny, according to official documents and email correspondence obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The documents show Jordan Dickinson, a senior legislative assistant handing energy and environmental issues in Kildee's office, reached out to the EPA on Friday, May 18 about attending. Though the request came four days after the deadline to register for the summit had passed—and nearly two months to-the-day after the event was announced—the EPA told Dickinson they were "optimistic" about there being enough space to accommodate him last-minute.

In a follow-up email confirming Dickinson's attendance, the EPA told the staffer that Wednesday's portion of the summit was "limited to federal agency folks" and individuals representing state and territorial governments. Furthermore, the draft agenda that Dickinson was sent, along with information about the event's logistics and security, denoted the first day of the summit was open to "all invited guests" while the second day was confined to state and federal agencies partnering with the EPA.

At no point throughout the email exchange did Dickinson indicate the congressman or other staff members were interested in attending the summit as well. In his initial email, Dickinson only clarified he wanted to attend because "we have some people in town from Michigan who are attending and also this is a top priority for my boss."

Kildee, who has served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2013, does not serve on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce or the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the two committees with the most extensive congressional jurisdiction over the EPA.

On Tuesday, EPA Associate Administrator Troy Lyons penned a letter, obtained by the Free Beacon, to Kildee in response to his allegation. Lyons disputed the assertions that Kildee and his staff made in having "mischaracterized the events that took place" in order to score political points.

"In our email communications with your office, EPA made it clear that the summit continued into May 23, but would be limited to federal agency and state representatives," Lyons wrote. "This is consistent with the information provided to all other congressional staff who planned to attend, as well as to all other non-federal agency and non-state invitees."

Lyons also questioned why a representative of Kildee's office—presumably Dickinson—failed to appear for the first day of the summit but turned up "less than two hours before" the summit concluded on Wednesday, May 23, when he was informed that day was limited to "federal and state agency representatives."

"Regardless of these details, a representative from your office arrived on May 23 with less than two hours before the entire event concluded," Lyons wrote. "Your office subsequently proceeded to tell members of the media that the agency barred your staff from the summit, which mischaracterized the events that took place."

Despite Dickinson's failure to attend the summit on May 22, it is clear that PFAS and the EPA were not far from the minds of the congressman and his staff.

On that day, Kildee's office released a statement castigating Pruitt and the EPA for allegedly failing to "address toxic PFAS contamination" appropriately. The statement was purportedly issued in response to a letter Pruitt sent to the congressman explaining why a study conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), had been delayed for release. In the past, Pruitt has publicly stated he has no control over the report's content or publication since it was compiled by an agency outside of the purview of the EPA.

Mitchell Rivard, Kildee's chief of staff, told the Free Beacon that it was difficult to "mischaracterize" what occurred, especially in light of media criticism.

"It is hard to mischaracterize the EPA's actions—it had been widely reported that the EPA blocked both journalists and a congressional office from the taxpayer-funded PFAS summit," Rivard said. "Administrator Pruitt's lack of transparency should be concerning to all Americans."

This is not the first time that Kildee has made Pruitt or the EPA a target of his ire. In April, Kildee disparaged Pruitt in an appearance on MSNBC with Rachel Maddow by claiming he "was not fit to lead" over allegations the EPA administrator approved pay raises for two top aides. Pruitt has denied having prior knowledge of the raises.