EPA memo promises emphasis on transparency after FOIA lawsuits

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michal Conger

Acting Administrator Robert Persiacepe circulated an agency-wide warning to Environmental Protection Agency employees yesterday about complying with the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Persiacepe’s memo was issued as EPA faces a growing controversy in the news media and federal courts sparked by revelations earlier this year that his predecessor used a fake email name to conduct official business.

The agency has made progress on transparency in the last several years, Persiacepe said, but hasn’t met all its goals for record-keeping and FOIA compliance.

To address those gaps, employees will soon be required to go through records training, a new FOIA training program and more stringent record-keeping procedures to make sure they are complying with open records laws.

“Maintaining records consistent with our statutory and regulatory obligations is a central tenet for doing the public’s business in an open and transparent manner,” he wrote.

The EPA has been hit with a series of lawsuits seeking emails and instant messages and accusing the agency of hiding information from watchdog groups. The most recent lawsuit, filed last week by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the American Traditions Institute, seeks to force the agency to disclose how evenly its transparency policies are applied to environmental groups and transparency watchdogs.

“It is clear from Bob Perciasepe’s memo that our IM lawsuit prompted discovery of more EPA violations of record-keeping and disclosure laws,” said Chris Horner, lead attorney in the EPA FOIA suit. ”His mention of IMs for the first time publicly indicates EPA is about to reveal whether it has been sloppy, deceitful, or possibly even criminal in its refusals to turn these records over to FOIA requesters and Congress.”

Horner said he suspects the EPA has been destroying IM chat records to avoid being forced to release them.

“Unfortunately, this hints that EPA will admit it has been destroying communications with and about anti-growth pressure groups with which it has been collaborating to set federal environmental policy,” he said. “If so, EPA’s notorious and expanding ‘transparency’ troubles are only just beginning.”

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