The official tapped to chair the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) task force charged with overseeing the cleanup of some of the country’s most contaminated sites is a former lawyer for a plastics and chemicals company suspected of creating some of those sites.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that Steven Cook, who has served as deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management since February, previously worked as in-house corporate counsel for plastics and chemicals giant LyondellBasell Industries.
Bloomberg first reported that Cook had been tapped to chair the Superfund Task Force, which was created last year by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to revamp efforts to clean up the toxic sites.
According to EPA records reported by the AP, LyondellBasell is potentially responsible for creating at least three dozen Superfund sites. Superfund sites are contaminated areas designated for cleanup by the federal government.
Pattie Shieh-Lance, a corporate spokeswoman for LyondellBasell, told the AP that the company had “resolved its Superfund obligations nearly a decade ago” and “does not currently have any such obligations.”
The AP reported that Cook signed a memo in April recusing himself from regulatory matters involving his former employer, although he is allowed to participate in matters involving LyondellBasell if the decision would also affect five or other companies.
Lincoln Ferguson, a spokesman for the EPA, told the AP that Cook was subject to the same ethics rules that other agency officials are, and that all employees work with the EPA’s ethics office to resolve potential conflicts of interest.
“All EPA employees receive ethics briefings when they start and continually work with our ethics office regarding any potential conflicts they may encounter while employed here,” Ferguson said. “Steven Cook is no different.”