Two Tallahassee men are poised to make a mark on President Donald Trumps’ Environmental Protection Agency.
One, former Department of Environmental Protection counsel Matthew Leopold, was just nominated by Trump to become the EPA’s general counsel. His appointment requires Senate approval.
The other, John Konkus, was Trump’s Leon County campaign chairman, but now is the EPA’s deputy director of public affairs, where he’s already started to make headlines for cutting out grants related to climate change issues.
While he was at the DEP, Leopold made headlines too -- for firing four of the agency’s enforcement attorneys who were perceived as being too tough on polluters. The agency’s official explanation was that he had to downsize the division because they weren’t pursuing as many polluters any more under Gov. Rick Scott.
Leopold’s official biography also says he was the trial counsel on Scott’s lawsuit against Georgia over its chokehold on water flowing into the Apalachicola River. Florida spent millions of dollars on the case but lost. Amid a storm of criticism from state legislators over the cost of the losing litigation, DEP Secretary Jon Steverson resigned -- to take a job with one of the private law firms collecting state money in the suit. Leopold went to work for a different firm that was also collecting state money from the suit, Carlton Fields.
An EPA press release about the appointment features praise for Leopold from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the heads of the Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida -- all of whom the EPA describes as ”environmental leaders.”
Konkus, meanwhile, previously worked as chief of staff for former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who Scott pushed out during a scandal and who later attacked her former boss in a book. Although he has never before worked for an environmental agency, his political efforts on behalf of Trump have landed him a job with the EPA overseeing grants.
According to the Washington Post, Konkus has told EPA employees that he’s hunting for grants that mention what he called ”the double-C word” -- climate change -- so he can cut those out. So far, the Post reported, he has canceled close to $2 million competitively awarded to universities and nonprofit organizations.