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Return to Capitol Hill: Ron Tenpas Reflects on Testifying Before Congress

To the untrained eye, policy and data-driven discussions among a mild-mannered group of elected officials and panelists may not seem all that exciting.

But at a recent congressional subcommittee hearing, V&E partner Ron Tenpas was in his element.

“It was a lot of fun,” Tenpas, a member of V&E’s Environmental and Natural Resources practice, said. “If you’re in Washington, that’s what we do. We talk to each other a lot about the role and work of government. That’s the world I live and breathe in.”

This past February, Tenpas testified during a live-streamed hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The subcommittee was reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency’s record of enforcement under the Trump administration.

Tenpas, a former Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources division and a former United States Attorney, is no stranger to Capitol Hill hearings.  While serving in the George W. Bush administration, he testified before Congress several times. But his appearance at the February hearing marked his first time testifying as an outside witness.

There was something else unique about his testimony: Out of the six people on the panel, Tenpas was the only one testifying at the invitation of the subcommittee’s Republican members. The rest of the panelists had been called by the subcommittee’s Democratic majority.

Tenpas said the subcommittee’s Republican staff reached out to him earlier this year, apparently after seeing comments he had made to the press rebutting critics who claimed that data showed the EPA had cut back on penalizing polluters. Tenpas, drawing on his first-hand experience with the same data sets when he was in government, told Bloomberg in January that the EPA enforcement data was “noisy” and that single cases can have an outsize impact, making it difficult to draw conclusions one way or another. He elaborated on his position during his testimony to the subcommittee. (Watch and read his testimony here.)

Though Tenpas went into the hearing knowing that all of his fellow panelists would be more critical of the EPA, he said he wasn’t intimidated by the prospect of presenting an opposing viewpoint.

“I knew in general what these hearings are like. As a subject matter, it’s an area that I’m pretty knowledgeable and conversant in. When I was Assistant Attorney General, I was looking at these same data points to try to evaluate how we were doing as the leader of the government’s Environmental Enforcement Program,” he explained. “You put those two things together and I didn’t feel any particular nervousness about it.”

To the contrary, Tenpas enjoyed his time sharing his thoughts with the subcommittee and hearing what the other panelists had to say. It brought about a certain degree of nostalgia, albeit not enough to evoke any desire to return to government, he added.

“It reminded me how satisfying government work can be, and how glad I was to have had that opportunity in the past,” he said. “But everything has its time and its season. My time and season to do that was 10, 15 years ago. At this point, I’ve moved on to a next stage professionally in private practice that I’m very happy with.”

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.