Politico buried crucial context in a report Sunday about the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to screen more thoroughly public records requests related to the embattled administrator Scott Pruitt.
The report suggests the EPA is scrutinizing Freedom of Information requests seeking information about Pruitt. The fact that the agency enacted a similar review process under former President Barack Obama is not mentioned in Politico’s article until several paragraphs down.
FOIA experts claim the EPA ratcheted up its vetting process during the first year of the Trump-era, according to Politico. “This does look like the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented,” Nate Jones, director of the FOIA Project at George Washington University, told Politico.
The new process, according to internal emails Politico obtained, involve “awareness reviews” or “senior management reviews” political staffers conducted before the agency releases essentially any documents. Pruitt’s political appointees also chastised employees who released documents without having them screened first, according to the Politico report.
This is not the first time the EPA has been roiled in a scandal involving FOIA requests. The agency granted fee waivers in 2012-2013 for 75 out of 82 requests filed by environmental groups, according to EPA records obtained the Competitive Enterprise Institute in May 2013. Obama’s EPA denied only seven of them — meaning green groups saw their fees waived 92 percent of the time.
At the same time, the agency frequently denied fee waivers to conservative groups. EPA records show 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.
The Politico report comes after various media outlets revealed that Pruitt allegedly spent big on first-class travel. The New York Times published a report in April, for instance, suggesting at least five EPA officials were placed on leave for opposing spending requests on proposals such as a $100,000-a-month private jet membership.
Pruitt also reportedly racked up nearly $90,000 in-flight expenses in June 2017. He traveled to Italy in June for meetings at the Vatican and to attend a summit with international energy ministers, CBS noted in a Feb. 13 report. The round-trip business-class flight cost at least $7,000, according to the report. Career bureaucrats at the EPA are joining in the barrage.