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Congress: EPA is flouting gov’t transparency laws to hide emails

Congressional Republicans are accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of improperly using an exemption clause under the Freedom of Information Act to redact the alias email of departing Administrator Lisa Jackson.

GOP lawmakers are asking that the EPA inspector general broaden his search to find out if the agency abused its discretion by redacting the Jackson’s account name, domain name, and server for her alias account.

“Based on documents the Committees have obtained, EPA is clearly deviating from President Obama’s openness initiative and from the letter of the law,” said a letter from Republicans Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, California Rep. Darrell Issa, and Texas Rep. Lamar Smith to the EPA’s inspector general.

“It also appears that EPA is hiding information the public has a right to know in violation of Federal law,” the letter continues, adding that the “EPA has cited Exemption 6 to redact the entire email address and the account name in every email either sent or received by Lisa Jackson’s alias email account. In doing so, the agency not only denied the public knowledge of the domain name, but also the server she used.”

The EPA used Exemption 6 to redact the email address used by Jackson in the released emails. This exemption is supposed to only be used to protect personal privacy — not Jackson’s work email address.

The letter also noted that the EPA previously used a different FOIA exemption to redact Jackson’s alias account in released documents.

The Department of Justice FOIA guidance says that “[e]xemption 6 protects information about individuals ‘in personnel and medical files and similar files,’ when disclosing such information, “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’”

President Obama also instructed agencies that FOIA-ed information should not be withheld “merely because officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”

Last month, the EPA released more than 2100 emails from Lisa Jackson’s alias account — “Richard Windsor” — using the terms “coal,” “climate,” “endanger,” or “MACT”. The email release was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute last year. Sen. Vitter called the release “fishy” and argued that the agency improperly redacted information.

“This strikes me as incredibly fishy and begs a number of important questions,” Vitter said last month. “The EPA needs to honor the president’s pledge of transparency and release these documents without redaction of the administrator’s email address – a big first step toward removing the blanket of secrecy in this agency.”

This new action follows a letter sent last month to the EPA from Vitter and Issa that demanded emails from the private accounts of an Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 Administrator James Martin, who the lawmakers said might be trying to skirt federal transparency laws.

The lawmakers cited a The Daily Caller News Foundation report and raised concerns that Martin might have been using his private “me.com” email account to conduct official business outside of public scrutiny.

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