Opinion: Op-Eds

Treasury evasions on carbon tax email mock Obama's 'most transparent administration ever' claim

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Op-Eds,Treasury,Climate Change,EPA,Freedom of Information Act,Competitive Enterprise Institute,Global Warming

A Washington, D.C., federal court this week ordered briefs to be filed in the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s struggle to obtain Treasury Department “carbon tax” emails.

Documents obtained so far suggest these emails will provide a roadmap of President Obama's covert plans to spring this European-style energy tax in some legislative fait accompli.

The point of the tax is both new “revenues,” and to help keep Obama’s 2008 campaign vow to make “electricity rates ... necessarily skyrocket,” as well as the price of gasoline and most else, given the cost of energy is embedded throughout the economy.

Treasury just concluded producing those documents, or portions of them, it will no longer fight over in this lawsuit inspired by Treasury’s stonewalling of CEI’s August 2012 Freedom of Information Act request.

These records, mostly emails, reflect the administration’s standard paranoia and secrecy, notwithstanding its promiscuous, if ostentatiously violated, claims to historic transparency.

For example, they withheld hundreds of emails in full — meaning even the factual information on the “To,” “From,” “Date,” and “Subject” fields was too dangerous to be seen by the public.

Such secrecy is absurd, and with very rare exception, impermissible under FOIA. Yet it is epidemic among members of the Obama administration Team Transparency.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency is asking a court let it withhold from CEI in full more than 1,400 emails from the false-identity “Richard Windsor” account established for former administrator Lisa Jackson.

Similarly, Treasury withheld intriguing-sounding attachments to emails in their entirety; some had their titles redacted, or blacked out.

One email passed along a Treasury plan titled “Coal Plant Retirement Memo.” Remember, this is the Treasury Department, not EPA. But when your boss vows to bankrupt an industry, it’s all hands on deck.

Another email shows Treasury officials believed they discovered the [REDACTED] in calculations and claims made by Capitol Hill’s favorite cheerleader for cap-and-trade and carbon taxes, MIT professor John Reilly.

The context indicates that [REDACTED] is “error,” “mistake” or a less polite synonym. That’s news enough. The desperation in trying to get away with blacking out the revelation, as “pre-decisional,” is remarkable.

Also instructive, Reilly wrote the Treasury appointee in charge to follow up their discussion about using a carbon tax “as part of solving budget problems.” Ah.

So holster the bombast about urgently needed taxation to avoid climate catastrophe, or that the tax would be “recycled” back to the public (“revenue neutral”). That’s not what you say among yourselves when planning.

Other Reilly emails discuss manipulating economic models — the supposed evidence waved around to support claims of low costs or great benefits — to get different outcomes.

That of course is axiomatic. But that thread is found amid Treasury discussion of certain outcomes being so obvious as transfer payment or wealth redistribution vehicles.

Which, along with generating revenues to underwrite big-government programs, is really the goal for sneaking in this tax gusher. Not some magical climate crisis, which, incidentally, no computer model claims such a tax would impact in the slightest.

An email from the Big Green pressure group Resources for the Future indicates that group’s view that controversial EPA regulations — initiated after cap-and-trade failed through the proper, democratic process — are merely “an on-ramp to a broader price on carbon that could emerge partially through the regulatory process and ultimately through a legislative one.”

One amusing Treasury note back to RFF emphasizes, quite possibly in all seriousness, that Treasury’s very active team are not working on this in any official capacity.

Oddly, Treasury proceeded to redact massively and withhold documents as “deliberative process.” Cue: “Your honor, we simply ask the court’s assistance in learning from Treasury just which is the lie? The claim made to RFF, or the claim to us (and the court) that these state secrets represent policy development?”

Treasury must also justify hiding 392 pages of “carbon” emails from the public under a FOIA exemption reserved for information classified by “Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy,” specifically “economic matters relating to national security.” Heavy stuff. Possibly Treasury confuses a threat to the world with a threat to their world?

Continuing a pattern of improper email and text-messaging practices that I and others have uncovered, the official in charge of all of this maintained his email account with his former employer after taking the position as advisor to the president.

We know this because the production shows the official, former Deputy Assistant Secretary Gilbert Metcalf (a former lead author for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), corresponding on this account.

We seek to learn if he copied Treasury on all work-related correspondence using that account, as the law requires. We do know that sometimes he forwarded work emails to this private university account, at which point its trail is lost.

To find out more, I have since sent other FOIA requests to Treasury, seeking all of Metcalf’s emails sent to or from his tufts.edu account relating to his Treasury Department job and, specifically, all Treasury emails he forwarded there.

Here’s to hoping Treasury can be more cooperative than it has been to date, as the law requires they obtain these records from Tufts.

Finally, close scrutiny also revealed that Treasury’s grudging production let slip undeniable proof it is still hiding a certain, I suspect, enormous cache of other “carbon tax”-related emails we sought and which Treasury flatly denied exist.

This may find disfavor with the court; I can tell you that I have also found other agencies doing the same thing. Details on this lawlessness to follow, in our upcoming pleadings.

So, onward to explaining to the court the numerous games that Treasury, like other Obama administration agencies, is playing with the law to keep public records secret.

In this particular case, until all stops are pulled to sneak the energy tax into a larger budget deal. Congress, too, could demand Treasury turn over these illegitimately withheld emails, immediately.

Either way, we will continue fighting such rampant Obama administration schemes to hide what they’re up to.

Christopher C. Horner is an attorney and senior fellow with the Washington, DC think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, and author of The Liberal War on Transparency (Threshold, 2012).
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