EPA makes information requests more difficult for conservatives
The IRS may not be the only federal agency singling out conservative groups. Records suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency has made it easier for environmental groups to file Freedom of Information Act requests than conservative organizations.
According to EPA records obtained by the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute, since January 2012 the agency has granted fee waivers for 75 out of 82 Freedom of Information Act requests sent by major environmental groups, denying only seven of them — meaning green groups saw their fees waived 92 percent of the time.
At the same time, the EPA frequently denied fee waivers to conservative groups. EPA records show that the agency rejected or ignored 21 out of 26 fee waiver requests from such conservative groups as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Institute for Energy Research, and Judicial Watch — an 81 percent rejection rate.
Fees vary based on how many documents are requested, what medium they are requested in and how much government research is involved.
“This is as clear an example of disparate treatment as the IRS hurdles selectively imposed upon groups with names ominously reflecting an interest in, say, a less intrusive or biased federal government,” said CEI senior fellow Chris Horner, author of “The Liberal War on Transparency.”
Horner described the EPA’s actions as “a clear pattern of favoritism for allied groups and “a concerted campaign to make life more difficult for those deemed unfriendly.”
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has filed 15 fee waiver requests with the EPA since January 2012, but 10 of them have been denied by the agency and only one was granted. CEI won a lawsuit over their FOIA request regarding former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s alias email account, and the EPA ignored three other requests.
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity had both of its fee waiver requests denied, and the Institute for Energy Research had its only fee waiver request denied. The watchdog group Judicial Watch had two of four fee waivers denied, as did the National Center for Public Policy Research.
However, environmental groups were much more successful in getting the agency to cooperate. The Natural Resources Defense Council made 20 fee waiver requests, had 19 granted, and one denied; EarthJustice made 19 requests, had 17 granted, and two denied; the Sierra Club made 15 requests, had four granted and four denied, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility had all 17 of its requests granted.
The Waterkeeper Alliance had all three fee waiver requests granted, the Southern Environmental Law Center had both of its requests granted, the Center for Biological Diversity had all four of its requests granted and Greenpeace had both of its fee waiver requests granted.
The fee waivers to environmental groups were also granted on the “initial determination” stage, meaning these green groups did not have to appeal for fee waivers. However, Horner said he had to fight many fee waiver denials, all of which were overturned on appeal.
“Their practice is to take care of their friends and impose ridiculous obstacles to deny problematic parties’ requests for information,” Horner said.
Many of these environmental groups also regularly sue the EPA in what are called “sue and settle” lawsuits. This occurs when the EPA quickly settles a lawsuit with an outside group — frequently environmental organizations — and then is forced by a court order to promulgate new regulations.
Among the groups that frequently sue the EPA are the Sierra Club, NRDC, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Many of these settlements also result in taxpayers paying for the attorneys’ fees of environmental groups.
Republicans have criticized the EPA for settling with environmental groups because it results in less public scrutiny over rule-making. Others critics charge that it is a way for the agency to collude with environmental groups, giving activists the policy outcomes they originally wanted.
“Sue-and-settle litigation damages the transparency, public participation and judicial review protections Congress has guaranteed for all of our citizens in the rulemaking process,” said Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. “And, it’s a tremendous burden on job-creating businesses, especially small businesses.”
The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.
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