President Obama says his administration is the “most transparent administration in history.” Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has made a mockery of this claim.
Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson officially stepped down yesterday, but her legacy of obfuscation lives on. Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) expects the second of four promised batches of “Richard Windsor” emails from the EPA. Richard Windsor, as most of D.C. knows by now, was Jackson’s chosen alias for her secondary email account during her tenure as administrator. CEI began to investigate Jackson’s use of this account over a month before she announced her resignation in December. Now, we’re receiving the fruits of our investigation — but so far, the results have been less than satisfying.
If today’s delivery of emails from the EPA is anything like the tranche CEI received in January, it will not provide any valuable information about how Jackson employed her Richard Windsor email account. Indeed, the delivery we received in January — 2,100 emails total, significantly shy of the promised 3,000 — consisted entirely of Google news alerts and press clippings.
When asked why 2,100 emails satisfied the EPA’s promise to process “approximately 3,000 emails” per month from the false-identity account, the Department of Justice informed CEI that they had withheld the other 900. In full. Not one word released, not even the factual information — such as To and From fields — that all agencies must release of all but the most highly classified public records.
This, from the “most transparent” administration?
These email releases are the long-awaited products of CEI’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent lawsuit against the EPA. The FOIA request targeted any emails on Jackson’s secondary account that referenced the EPA’s so-called “war on coal.” Jackson’s EPA had been particularly unfriendly to the coal industry — unsurprisingly, given President Obama’s own 2008 campaign promise to bankrupt those who try to build new coal-fired power plants. Could Jackson possibly have used her second, oddly mis-identified, less-than-official email account to correspond with her allies in this war on coal?
CEI thought it possible. But we may never know, given how little the EPA has been willing to share. A court already ordered the EPA to turn over the emails, and the EPA agreed to a court-ordered production schedule. But its fidelity to this — and to answering our repeated requests for clarification of dubious claims it made to us in this process — is rather suspect at the moment.
The EPA has even refused to provide straight answers to the most basic questions about how many email accounts Lisa Jackson was employing and why she needed an alias account in the first place. In December, Jackson claimed her Richard Windsor account — apparently named after her dog and hometown — was strictly used for internal communications. CEI has found no evidence that any other government official ever adopted a false identity for internal correspondence.
In November, The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch found emails sent to and from “Richard Windsor” in an email thread obtained and released by the Center for Progressive Reform. There is no notation beside the name “Richard Windsor” to signify that the alias belongs to Lisa Jackson. These records and many more are polluted by Jackson’s bizarre and confusing use of an alias.
Today, CEI waits for clarification from the EPA. If the expected second batch of emails comes, it will no doubt come a few minutes before 5:00 p.m., given the EPA’s timing on its last several missives related to our request for the truth in this matter.
For the sake of transparency, and of easing the road ahead for the next EPA administrator, we hope the EPA starts providing some answers.
Nicole W. Ciandella is a media coordinator at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.