Toyota avoids seeming conflict of interest by helping the EPA streamline management practices

Toyota has backed off from working directly with the Environmental Protection Agency on improving the EPA’s management processes.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has a long history of working so closely with Industry that the word “collusion” comes to mind, said in a Congressional Hearing in December that the EPA planned to hire Toyota to evaluate the EPA’s internal practices and management structure.  That caused a certain uproar because there’s a large risk of cross-purposes were Toyota and the EPA were to work together – given the EPA’s regulatory oversight role over Toyota and other automakers.  Today, Toyota announced that the company and the EPA have ended talks related to starting the partnership.

Pruitt’s comments came at a Dec. 7 hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he told lawmakers: “We are actually partnering with Toyota to begin a lean process at the agency to evaluate management practices.”  According to a report at the time in the Huffington Post, this caused obvious concern among former EPA staffers and others of potential conflicts of interest.

To reiterate – the potential for conflict of interest is because the EPA has regulatory oversight over Toyota among the other automakers.   Obviously, if Toyota were to be hired to work for the EPA, there’d be opportunity for Toyota to influence the EPA in some way.

By way of example, the Environmental Working Group sent a letter to Toyota urging the company to call off talks with the EPA.  EWG President Ken Cook said the very prospect of a partnership is cause for concern.  “Nothing in Mr. Pruitt’s actions or public statements to date as head of the EPA, or in his prior role as Oklahoma’s attorney general, suggests that he comes to issues of EPA’s performance, management and effectiveness with an impartial interest in improving the agency through any management techniques,” Cook wrote. “To the contrary, Mr. Pruitt already has an overarching objective for the EPA: to destroy its ability to achieve its mission.”

The nature of the work Toyota would have done with the EPA is proselytizing “The Toyota Way”.  Recall that Toyota has a highly efficient management and decision-making structure that has helped Toyota remain a very powerful global automaker.  Toyota, the automaker, has a nonprofit affiliate called the Toyota Production System Support Center, which is the organization that was negotiating with the EPA.

The Toyota Production System Support Center has consulted with many organization on management practices.

Toyota explained in a response to the EWG that HUD, New York State, the City of Louisville, and other organizations, have benefited from collaborations with the TSSC.  Before launching a formal engagement, the TSSC and a prospective organization holds a series of talks through which they determine what will occur, if anything.  During those discussions with the EPA, it was decided to call off the project.

Public Citizen issued a statement saying in part: Had Toyota really been hired by the EPA, it would have been a textbook case of the fox guarding the henhouse. Fortunately, in the case of the Toyota-Pruitt Partnership, public pressure was able to change corporate action. But that pressure doesn’t end today. In the months ahead, we’ll continue calling on automakers to sever ties with the dirty and dangerous deregulatory push coming from President Trump.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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