The Environmental Protection Agency told Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Thursday that Senior Counselor to the Administration Avi Garbow is not required to sign an ethics pledge or provide public financial disclosure, after the senator expressed concerns about his apparent conflicts Garbow has with his previous employer.
The EPA wrote back to Blackburn after her letter in February, declining to provide requested materials. In its response, the agency said Garbow is a Special Government Employee, not a political employee, and therefore he has a few safety nets.
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“Because an SGE is not a political employee,” the EPA wrote back, “Mr. Garbow is not required to sign an ethics pledge.” And as for that financial disclosure, the agency says that is “confidential” and therefore “exempt” from the public.
As Blackburn noted in her February letter, Garbow continues to have a relationship with his former employer Patagonia, the company recently condemned for having factories in China, and he has continued lobbying for other organizations like the Organic Trade Organization, a 501 (c)(6) organization.
Blackburrn demanded Garbow recuse himself from all matters related to Patagonia. As the Environmental Advocate at Patagonia, Garbow was heavily involved in litigation against the Trump administration, and he was still serving as opposing counsel of record in a case against the EPA for two full days after the EPA announced the hire.
“Pursuant to 5 C.F.R. 2635.502, employees must take appropriate steps to avoid the appearance of having their impartiality questioned in the performance of their official duties,” Blackburn wrote in February. “According to Justice Department ethics guidelines, an employee is normally recused for a one-year period from a matter in which their former employer whom they provided services to within the previous year is a party or represents a party. Mr. Garbow should therefore should be recused from all matters in which Patagonia is a party.”
Despite the EPA’s noncompliance, it’s not case closed for Blackburn. She provided the following statement to Fox News:
“The Biden administration installed a radical activist as the EPA Administrator’s top advisor and this official now refuses to disclose any dark money ties to his former employer Patagonia. What is he hiding? The American people deserve to know the truth about Avi Garbow’s conflicts of interests and how much woke corporate power a fleece maker holds over our country’s environmental policy.”
On April 6, Patagonia caught flak for tweeting it would be supporting groups in Georgia that were affected by the new voting law. It wasn’t long after that critics discovered Patagonia was using Chinese labor to produce its clothes, despite China’s dismal human rights record. China’s oppression against the Uyghur Muslim population has been widely reported.
Some legal experts have even deemed it genocide. Yet, Patagonia has at least five factories in the country, a detail not lost on conservative critics.
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The EPA “must take steps to assure the American people that political appointees who represent the top agency leadership are following the highest ethical standards and making unbiased decisions when carrying out their responsibilities,” Blackburn wrote in her February letter.