by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Mark Tapscott documents for the Washington Examiner the latest developments in a lawsuit the Competitive Enterprise Institute has filed against the Environmental Protection Agency. CEI wants to see email messages sent from EPA to private email accounts of environmental activists.
In a statement describing its suit, CEI said its FOIA request “was aimed at determining the extent to which policymaking in the Obama Administration is being coordinated with outside environmental pressure groups. CEI expressly extended its request to cover information from Mr. [James] Martin’s non-official e-mail accounts, based on his clear history of using such accounts to perform official business.”
The think tank accused EPA of stonewalling because it “has refused to produce these e-mails, claiming that records ‘sent to a personal email address’ are not agency records. EPA has also stonewalled CEI’s administrative appeal, refusing to provide a response and make its arguments on the record for CEI to challenge. As such, CEI’s suit seeks to compel the release of these records.”
Christopher Horner, a CEI senior fellow, argues in a forthcoming book entitled “The Liberal War on Transparency” that EPA officials have often used what he describes as “secret email accounts” to conduct official discussions with outside special interests in the environmental community, as well as “cut-outs” – individuals outside of government who serve as conduits between officials and special interest groups, as a method of circumventing transparency laws like the FOIA.
If the federal court agrees with CEI and orders EPA officials to produce emails to and from Martin’s private email acccount, it could pave the way for suits against all federal departments and agencies in which there is evidence or suspicion outside of government that officials have used private email accounts, or government email accounts known to exist by only by a few individuals.