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Watchdog: Accountability

Watchdog group sues EPA for text messages from top officials

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Watchdog,Michal Conger,EPA,Gina McCarthy,Accountability,Energy and Environment,Transparency,FOIA

A nonprofit watchdog group is suing the Environmental Protection Agency seeking text messages from top officials after the agency denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the records.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute filed the FOIA request in December for messages sent to and from current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy from 11 officials on government-assigned devices.

The EPA refused to waive fees for the message transcripts, effectively denying the request, according to CEI.

FOIA law allows fees, which can easily run into the thousands of dollars for such requests, to be waived for nonprofit and media groups that use the information for the public benefit.

The EPA has already admitted to destroying text messages sent by McCarthy from her government phone, saying they were personal and therefore not subject to the request, according to CEI.

“CEI’s FOIA request will reveal whether each and every one of Ms. McCarthy's text messages to EPA colleagues were indeed 'personal', as the EPA has claimed to somehow excuse their wholesale destruction, or whether EPA has been destroying copies of officials’ use of this alternative to email. Under the law, there is no distinction between the two," said CEI fellow Chris Horner.

FOIA requests from CEI forced the EPA to release emails under former administrator Lisa Jackson's “Richard Windsor” alias, which she used to conduct government business.

CEI has also filed FOIA requests for emails, text messages and instant messages from Jackson, McCarthy and other EPA officials.

The rejection that sparked the lawsuit is not the first time EPA has refused fee waivers to stonewall CEI, according to the group.

A review by Horner and CEI last year suggested that the EPA was more likely to waive fees for environmental groups the agency considers "friendly" to its agenda and to deny waivers for conservative groups the agency considers hostile to its agenda.

Federal law doesn't permit agencies to deny FOIA requests because the requesters are critics of the agency.

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