A federal judge said that the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of private emails account may have been an attempt to skirt public scrutiny and transparency laws. The court decision comes after investigation uncovered that top agency officials were using such accounts to conduct official business.
“The possibility that unsearched personal email accounts may have been used for official business raises the possibility that leaders in the EPA may have purposefully attempted to skirt disclosure under the FOIA,” wrote U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in his decision.
The judge ruled on Wednesday that conservative radio host Mark Levin’s Landmark Legal Foundation can “question and obtain records from EPA officials as part of the firm’s Freedom of Information lawsuit against the federal agency,” reports the Associated Press.
Levin’s group filed a lawsuit last year asking the EPA for records indicating that the agency was playing politics and delaying new environmental regulations until after the presidential election. However, the EPA initially excluded top EPA officials from the FOIA search, which Lamberth said “suggests an unreasonable and bad faith reading of Landmark’s FOIA request and subsequent agreement to narrow its scope.” (RELATED: EPA chief used alias to email with environmentalists)
The court’s decision comes as congressional investigators are looking into former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson for using her private email address to correspond with environmental groups.
“We are concerned that your use of a non-official e-mail account was a deliberate attempt to circumvent federal transparency laws and Congressional oversight,” wrote Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa in a letter to Jackson. “The use of a non-official account raises concerns that during your tenure as EPA Administrator, you attempted to insulate communications with Taylor and possibly other e-mail correspondence from Congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act requests.”
Last year, The Daily Caller News Foundation revealed that Jackson was using an alias email account under the name “Richard Windsor.” Subsequent reports revealed that other top agency officials were using private email accounts to conduct officials business.
Former EPA Region 8 administrator James Martin used his private email account to correspond with environmentalists regarding agency business, and former EPA acting administrator Bob Perciasepe used a private email account for official business as well.
Martin subsequently resigned, but Perciasepe stayed on as acting administrator until the recently confirmed Gina McCarthy took over as head of the agency.
“The Committee has continued to uncover troubling evidence that administration officials have engaged in an intentional and systemic practice of violating federal transparency laws to communicate with lobbyists and other private interests using non-official or alias email accounts,” said Issa in regards to Jackson’s use of a private email account. “This practice runs afoul of the President’s promise to run the most transparent Administration in history and creates an undeniable impression that officials are engaging in inappropriate behavior.”
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