Think tank sues EPA for official's secret emails

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Photo - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. Her agency is being sued under the federal Freedom of Information Act by a non-profit group for official emails sent by one of her regional officials using a private account. (AP Photo)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. Her agency is being sued under the federal Freedom of Information Act by a non-profit group for official emails sent by one of her regional officials using a private account. (AP Photo)
News,Mark Tapscott,Watchdog

A potential landmark government transparency court case took shape today as a conservative think tank filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking copies of all emails concerning official policies sent by one of its regional administrators using his private email address.

The suit was filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which bills itself as "dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty."

EPA has also stonewalled CEI's administrative appeal, refusing to provide a response and make its arguments on the record for CEI to challenge. --- Competitive Enterprise Institute

In its suit, CEI said EPA had denied the think tank's request for all emails sent to or by region eight administrator James Martin and the Environmental Defense Fund, including those using his official and any private emails. Prior to joining EPA, Martin was an attorney for the EDF.

In a statement describing its suit, CEI said its FOIA request "was aimed at determining the extent to which policymaking in the Obama Administration is being coordinated with outside environmental pressure groups. CEI expressly extended its request to cover information from Mr. Martin's non-official e-mail accounts, based on his clear history of using such accounts to perform official business."

The think tank accused EPA of stonewalling because it "has refused to produce these e-mails, claiming that records 'sent to a personal email address' are not agency records. EPA has also stonewalled CEI's administrative appeal, refusing to provide a response and make its arguments on the record for CEI to challenge. As such, CEI's suit seeks to compel the release of these records."

Christopher Horner, a CEI senior fellow, argues in a forthcoming book entitled "The Liberal War on Transparency" that EPA officials have often used what he describes as "secret email accounts" to conduct official discussions with outside special interests in the environmental community, as well as "cut-outs" - individuals outside of government who serve as conduits between officials and special interest groups, as a method of circumventing transparency laws like the FOIA.

If the federal court agrees with CEI and orders EPA officials to produce emails to and from Martin's private email acccount, it could pave the way for suits against all federal departments and agencies in which there is evidence or suspicion outside of government that officials have used private email accounts, or government email accounts known to exist by only by a few individuals.

Go here to read the CEI FOIA suit.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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