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Senate report shows EPA obfuscation, secrecy and bias

EPAThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has violated federal laws regarding governmental transparency countless times over the past five years, according to a Senate report released Monday.

The report, A Call for Sunshine: EPA’s FOIA and Federal Records Failures Uncovered, was produced by Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. It provides a detailed account of the EPA’s violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other federal laws designed to ensure transparency and accountability in the government.

“This report provides a detailed accounting of EPA’s actions under the Obama Administration that reveals multiple attempts to hinder transparency. Each item in this report makes clear: the Obama EPA operates in such a way that frustrates oversight and impedes the public’s ability to know what their government is up to,” the authors write in the introduction to the report.

According to the report, “The agency established an alias identity to hide the actions of the former administrator; has purposefully been unresponsive to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request, oftentimes redacting information the public has a right to know; and mismanaged its electronic records system such that federal records have been jeopardized.”

“Moreover, EPA’s leadership abandoned the historic model of a specialized public servant who seeks to fairly administer the law and has instead embraced a number of controversial tactics to advance a secretive agenda,” the report said.

Specific findings listed in the report include:

  • Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used an alias email — “Richard Windsor” — to conduct official agency business. The report reveals that other staff members have engaged in similar conduct, using private emails to hide public records. The use of both aliases and private emails for official business violates EPA’s own policies.
  • The report found that the EPA has a “dismal history” of competently and timely responding to FOIA requests.
  • The EPA’s redaction of public records is “prolific” and often “inappropriate,” according to the report.
  • The report alleges one instance in which the EPA deliberately altered the date on a FOIA response to avoid the legal consequences of missing a deadline and then excluded this document from a FOIA production to avoid scrutiny and embarrassment.
  • The EPA has exploited FOIA to help its environmentalist allies while hampering the work of public watchdogs. It has done so through biased use of “fee waivers.” The report states: “Under the Obama Administration, EPA has failed to embrace the principles behind the FOIA fee waiver process. Instead, the Agency has used the process to subsidize their allies’ access to information… Based on this analysis, it appears that EPA facilitates the FOIA process by granting fee waivers for major environmental groups, while simultaneously using it as a barrier against states and conservative organizations.”

The full report can be read here.

S.E. Robinson
MaineWire Reporter

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