- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A former high-ranking EPA staffer convicted of stealing nearly $900,000 by pretending to be a CIA spy had virtually no experience, got his job with help from a college buddy, and went on to play a key role in sweeping environmental regulations, according to a report Senate Republicans released Wednesday.

Those regulations remain in place despite John C. Beale’s lack of environmental expertise, Republican investigators said, adding that they want the Environmental Protection Agency to review the work in which Beale was involved during his 24-year tenure.

The report said Beale led an “itinerant life” as a police officer and a physical therapist in California before heading to Princeton University in the 1970s. It was at Princeton, the report said, where Beale befriended Robert Brenner, who later would become the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator.

“Rather than recruit someone with the requisite experience, Brenner sought out Beale in what appears to be a decision based solely on their personal friendship rather than any experience or credentials,” said conclusions of the report by Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Beale advanced quickly after he joined the agency in 1989 and eventually helped the EPA implement national air quality standards.

The highest-paid employee in the EPA, Beale was a senior policy adviser earning more than $200,000 in salary and bonuses a year by the time he resigned in April 2013.

Beale is now in prison on theft charges after admitting he ditched EPA work, claiming to be a CIA spy. Republicans say the EPA should disclose the underlying science behind the regulatory decisions in which Beale took part.

EPA officials acknowledged Wednesday that agency officials in Democratic and Republican administrations were duped for years by Beale, but they defended the regulations on which he worked.

Beale “was just one of a large number of people from a number of disciplines across the Agency who provided input on those rules,” EPA spokeswoman Elisha Johnson said in an email responding to the report.

“The standards followed the routine open, transparent and public process, providing opportunities for public and interagency review and comment prior to their finalization.”

Republican investigators said Beale “took ownership” of the EPA 1997 national air quality standards, though much of the underlying data remain secret.

“Today’s report connects the dots between John Beale and the numerous air regulations that he’s responsible for, regulations with a lasting impact that are costing many Americans their jobs and hard-earned wages,” said Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the committee.

The staff report also noted that the EPA has relied on “secret science” to justify most of its Clean Air Act regulations.

Tracing his unusual route into the agency, investigators found that Beale graduated from law school but failed the Washington state bar exam and was fired from his first job at a law firm. Beale also worked for 2 years on his cousin’s apple farm, then practiced law in the small town of Lake City, Minn., after eventually passing the bar exam.

Mr. Brenner recruited him into the EPA in 1987 as a part-time consultant, the report said.

Justin Shur, an attorney for Brenner, called the report “agenda-driven [and] simply incorrect in a number of respects.”

“For example, the attack on the air quality standards is hard to understand,” Mr. Shur said. “The overwhelming view within the public health community is that those standards saved lives. They have been hailed by both Democratic and Republican administrations alike.”

He said his client had a notable career and even received a distinguished executive award from President George W. Bush. “It’s sad that 30 years of public service would be reduced to this,” Mr. Shur said.

In testimony before a House oversight panel in October, Mr. Brenner said he recommended Beale for a spot in the EPA because of his “deep knowledge of and interest in environmental issues.”

Mr. Brenner faced scrutiny for more than his ties to Beale at the hearing. He admitted taking a $8,000 discount on a car in a deal purportedly brokered by a lobbyist with interests in the EPA. Mr. Brenner has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Beale was sentenced to 2 years in prison in December after admitting that he regularly took months off at a time while being paid — tricking colleagues and superiors for years into thinking that he was working for the CIA. All the while, he earned a paycheck and hefty bonuses.

At his sentencing hearing, Beale told the judge that shame had become his “constant companion.”

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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