Watchdog Article: New Windsorgate emails show EPA collaboration with media 'friendlies'

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Photo - A new release of hundreds of Windsorgate emails to and from former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson includes many that were entirely redacted for reasons that will have to be explained to the satisfaction of federal judge. (AP Photo)
A new release of hundreds of Windsorgate emails to and from former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson includes many that were entirely redacted for reasons that will have to be explained to the satisfaction of federal judge. (AP Photo)
News,Mark Tapscott,Watchdog

Officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have released a second batch of emails to and from former Administrator Lisa Jackson using the false name of "Richard Windsor" in apparent violation of federal transparency laws and regulations.

The new emails reveal Jackson and other top EPA officials devoting extensive attention to and cooperation with media, public officials and other "friendlies" whose coverage and commentary put the agency's policies and leadership in a positive light.

The new release also contains page after page of emails in which all or most of the information is redacted on the basis of an EPA claim that it was exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act's fifth, or "deliberative process," exemption.

That exemption permits, but does not require, withholding of documents created as part of the decision process leading to adoption of a specific agency policy or program.

The agency posted the new batch of Richard Windsor emails Friday evening as President Obama prepared for a weekend golf vacation in Florida on a trip from which White House reporters were barred. In response, Ed Henry of Fox News and the incoming president of the White House Correspondents Association, released a strongly worded statement blasting the decision:

"A broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend,"

Earlier in the week last week, Obama described his tenure in the White House as "the most transparent administration in history."

The Competitive Enterprise Institute think tank had filed FOIA requests for all emails to or from Jackson using the false name. The illegal emails - federal law bars use of false names in email or other communication regarding official business - were ordered to be made public by a federal court in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the agency by the conservative group.

In ordering the agency to release an estimated 12,000 Richard Windsor emails to CEI in four separate tranches, the court rejected an EPA attempt to withhold all of the controversial emails from public disclosure. The first tranche was made public in January. The agency witheld 900 emails from the first batch without providing an explanation.

Jackson announced her plan to resign in December, 2012 shortly after the court ruled the Richard Windsor emails had to be released to CEI.

The existence of the illegal emails was discovered by CEI senior fellow Christopher Horner while researching his recently published book entitled "The Liberal War Against Transparency."

Christopher Horner, a CEI senior fellow, told The Washington Examiner that the think tank estimates that 85 percent of the emails released Friday were redacted under the FOIA's fifth exemption. An EPA spokesman has been asked for a comment for this news story.

In one of the emails to "Richard Windsor," Andy Adora, then Jackson's press secretary, told the EPA head that an eagerly anticipated Washington Post news story had been delayed. Adora told Jackson she "can't decide if she's losing a battle w her editors or if they're taking extra time to make this a bigger story." An apparently disappointed Jackson responded as "Richard Windsor," saying "Yeesh."

Adora is now a press secretary at the U.S. Department of Justice.

In another of the legible Richard Windsor emails, Jackson corresponded with an associate EPA administrator about her eagerness to see herself on the cover of Rolling Stone for an article that described her as "the eco-warrior" and "the most progressive EPA chief in history."

In a third of the legible Richard Windsor emails, Jackson expressed her elation at being included by NBC's The Grio among its top 100 African-American history makers: "When you go to the Grio's website, I'm right there. Cool. Thanks to whoever worked this. Let's do something fun on it. CNN just did a feature on the top 100."

EPA officials will have to explain to the federal court how the Adora, Rolling Stone cover and Grio Top 100 emails, as well as each of the hundreds of other emails redacted under the deliberative process exemption of the FOIA, were integral parts of the agency's policy-making process.

Transparency in government experts often point to such tactics by federal officials as examples of how FOIA regulations can be used to delay making public embarrassing documents.

The emails can be viewed here on EPA's web site.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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