Opinion: Columnists

How Lisa Jackson skirted Obama's good-government pledge

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Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Columnists,Environment,Lobbying,Ethics,FOIA

Lisa Jackson, Obama's former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told a green-energy lobbyist in 2009 to email her personal account, an apparent violation of open-government rules, not to mention Obama's good-government rhetoric.

Siemens lobbyist Alison Taylor, vice president for sustainability at the energy and technology giant, wrote Jackson in November at an alias email address, Richard.Windsor@epa.gov. "Just a note to say I'm continuing to cheer for you from afar (not so far)," Taylor wrote in an email recently made public via the Freedom of Information Act following a request by Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "EPA's pulling into the lead on climate!"

The EPA had just issued its finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses pose a threat to human health. This empowered the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the 1972 Clean Air Act.

For Siemens, which had made a decision after Obama's election to go big on green energy and carbon-dioxide capture, this decision spelled profit.

In December 2009, lobbyist Taylor emailed Jackson again, requesting a meeting with "Siemens' global sustainability officer" Barbara Kux, Taylor's boss. "She'd like to meet you and to express her support for your good work on climate," Taylor wrote. "She's a big fan."

Jackson offered Kux and Taylor half an hour of her time on Dec. 14, and then wrote in a follow-up email to Taylor: "P.S. Can you use my home email rather than this one when you need to contact me directly? Tx, Lisa."

Taylor wrote back to set the tone of the meeting: "We have no request; we think you're a rock star." Then Taylor added, "I won't use this email, but I'm not sure I've got your personal email. I hope I didn't offend!"

Jackson's response: "Allision [sic] - no offense at all. My home email is above. Lj."

All epa.gov email addresses are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Lisa Jackson's home e-mail is not. For that reason, appointees are barred from doing official business on personal email. It appears Jackson was trying to do exactly this.

But this wasn't just any official business. Jackson was trying to go offline with a registered corporate lobbyist whose company stood to profit from the policies Jackson's agency was advancing.

These emails undermine all of President Obama's good-government promises.

"I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness," President Obama said in his first days in office. "Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

So much for that. In fact, a federal judge wrote in a ruling last week: "The possibility that unsearched personal email accounts may have been used for official business raises the possibility that leaders in the EPA may have purposefully attempted to skirt disclosure under the FOIA."

"We're going to have to change the culture in Washington," candidate Obama said in 2008, "so that lobbyists and special interests aren't driving the process."

But Jackson's emails were with a revolving-door lobbyist. Taylor was formerly Siemens' director of government affairs and at the time of the emails was still a registered federal lobbyist. Before that, her Siemens online bio states, Taylor was "Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for five years, and counsel to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce for six years."

The Siemens-Obama relationship is an intimate one. Lisa Jackson's liaison to Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2011, David McIntosh, is now Siemens' VP for federal lobbying. McIntosh donated $2,000 to Obama's reelection after joining Siemens. This didn't violate Obama's pledge to reject all lobbyist cash, because McIntosh — though Siemens' VP for federal lobbying at the time — didn't appear on a Siemens' lobbying filing until July 1, 2011, which was 8 days after his gift to Obama.

Siemens executive Peter Solmssen headlined a jobs summit in the days between Taylor's 2009 email exchanges. Obama, in his 2013 State of the Union address, mentioned Siemens in a positive light.

Siemens has pocketed Obama subsidies in the form of stimulus grants and loan guarantees for its green businesses. Siemens' 2011 financial filing identifies "an opportunity to further grow in the area of environment and climate protection." The filing lists many greenhouse-gas-reduction technologies Siemens was selling and then concludes: "We believe that public policy initiatives in many countries will lead to greater demand for such products ... including from government stimulus programs."

Despite Siemens' best efforts — and Jackson's — it didn't work.

CEO Peter Loescher stepped down last month after five quarters of losses, which Bloomberg News pinned largely on "Loescher's expansion into green energy ..."

Donning green can get you into the Obama administration's inner circles. But it can't always put you in the black.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.

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