By MICHAEL BIESECKER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s top environmental official for the Southeast was arrested Thursday on criminal ethics charges in Alabama reported to be related to a scheme to help a coal company avoid paying for a costly toxic waste cleanup.
Trey Glenn, 47, was briefly booked into a county jail in Birmingham before being released on a $30,000 bond. Glenn was appointed in August 2017 to serve as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in Atlanta, which oversees operations in eight states stretching from the Carolinas to Mississippi.
A grand jury indicted Glenn and his former business partner Scott Phillips earlier this week. Prior to Glenn’s appointment at EPA, he and Phillips worked for the coal company Drummond Co. to build state and local opposition to a federal Superfund cleanup in Birmingham that their client would have had to help fund.
Glenn resigned as director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management in 2009 following an earlier ethics scandal in which he was not charged. He worked as an industry lobbyist before his appointment to EPA.
In a statement provided by his lawyer, Glenn denied the charges.
“The charges against me are totally unfounded, and will be vigorously defended,” Glenn said. “I am innocent and expect to be fully vindicated.”
The office of EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has declined to comment since Glenn’s indictment was first reported by local media in Alabama on Tuesday.
“We’re not going to comment on that,” EPA spokesman John Konkus said Thursday. “We’re just not going to do it.”
Wheeler has been running EPA since former Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July under a cloud of ethics scandals. Congressional Democrats on Thursday pointed to Glenn’s arrest as further evidence of the corruption they said has been rife at the agency under President Donald Trump.
“Trey Glenn should have never made it through any serious vetting process,” said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “Scott Pruitt may be gone, but it’s clear the culture of corruption remains.”
Pallone pledged his committee would conduct “vigorous oversight” of EPA once Democrats take control of the House in January.
Details of the indictment have not yet been made public. Although Glenn’s criminal indictment is a public record under state law, the offices of the local district attorney and court clerk said Thursday they were unable to provide a copy and referred inquiries to the Alabama Ethics Commission. Thomas Albritton, director of the state ethics commission, did not return multiple calls from The Associated Press on Wednesday or Thursday.
Al.com first reported earlier this week that Glenn was indicted on multiple violations of Alabama’s Ethics Act, which prohibits lobbyists or their clients from giving a public official anything of value.
It’s the second time the Alabama Ethics Commission has accused Glenn of wrongdoing. In 2007, the commission voted unanimously that there was probable cause that Glenn, then the head of the state’s environmental enforcement agency, violated laws to get his job and to obtain personal trips. Among the issues was a trip to Disney World taken by Glenn and his family that was paid for by a public relations firm representing a client with business before his agency. Although he was not indicted on criminal charges that time, the resulting scandal led to Glenn’s resignation in 2009.
Glenn then formed a lobbying firm with Phillips, a former chairman of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission. Both were involved in opposing a federal Superfund cleanup in Birmingham on behalf of their client, Drummond Co.
In a federal trial earlier this year, Drummond Co. executive David Roberson and attorney Joel Gilbert were convicted on charges related to bribes paid to a state legislator to secure his opposition to an EPA cleanup of predominately African-American neighborhoods in north Birmingham contaminated by smokestack emissions from a plant owned by a Drummond Co. subsidiary. The company was potentially on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs for removing soil contaminated with lead, arsenic and other toxic materials.
Glenn was called to testify as a witness, and emails entered into evidence show he was deeply involved in efforts to build opposition among political and community leaders to the proposed toxic waste cleanup. In addition to the convictions of Roberson and Gilbert, the state lawmaker who received the bribes, Oliver Robinson, pleaded guilty.
EPA’s Region 4, headquartered in Atlanta, comprises Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Follow Associated Press investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck