Unfortunately, despite President Obama's new restrictions and bans on the revolving door, it could very well be that the spinning never comes to a complete halt. A current cause for concern, highlighted by a recent ProPublica article, involves the nomination of Ignacia Moreno as the head of the Department of Justice's environmental division. While she does have experience there from the days of the Clinton administration, Moreno spent the following five years defending corporations in pollution lawsuits. Her most recent position, and the one raising the most eyebrows, was as environmental counsel for General Electric (GE).
The EPA has a long history of bumping heads with GE. The company has been linked to an astounding 116 toxic waste Superfund sites, but never acquiesces easily. It has spent the past nine years protesting the constitutionality of the Superfund law and continues to drag the battle out with appeals.
Because of Moreno's role defending GE in Superfund cases, several EPA attorneys interviewed by ProPublica question her ability to now enforce that and other important environmental laws. Yet many others don't see a problem, arguing that true professionals can work both sides of an issue and that Moreno's experiences may even give her an advantage in enforcement. Brian Leinbach, a lawyer who has gone up against Moreno several times in court, is one such individual, stating, “She has been one of the big players in defending large corporations against Superfund lawsuits. She is going to have to change her focus 180 degrees, but there is no reason to believe she is not capable of doing that."
Moreno, for her part, has complied with Obama's new revolving door policies by promising that “two years after my resignation from my position with GE, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which GE is a party or represents a party unless I am first authorized to participate.” Her nomination has progressed rather quietly thus far, without vocal opinions from national environmental or public interest groups, although ProPublica notes that some smaller groups with closer ties to GE pollution have expressed disapproval.
Despite her vow to recuse herself when appropriate, Ignacia Moreno's nomination should still be evaluated with caution. It's quite possible that her three-line pledge just might not be enough to protect the public interest. If confirmed, however, her case could be a good initial test for Obama's new policies. Since most of his current revolving door bans apply exclusively to lobbyists, clear problems with Moreno would confirm that extra measures are needed to cover more general conflicts of interest.
-- Nina Brekelmans