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Vitter, Issa demand records regarding top EPA official’s use of private email account

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor
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Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa sent a joint letter on Tuesday demanding emails from the private accounts of an Environmental Protection Agency official who the lawmakers say may be trying to sidestep federal transparency laws.

The official is EPA Region 8 Administrator James Martin.

“This administration took office promising to be the ‘most transparent’ in history, but repeated actions have undermined this ambitious goal,” said Issa. “Investigations have revealed widespread disregard for transparency and record-keeping laws in multiple agencies and even in the White House.”

Citing a report by The Daily Caller News Foundation, Issa and Vitter raised concerns that Martin may be using his private “me.com” email account to skirt transparency laws and conduct official business outside of public scrutiny. (RELATED: Is top EPA official misusing email account?)

The DCNF looked at 19 emails released by the EPA as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in September 2012. The agency agreed to turn over emails between Martin and the Environmental Defense Fund’s general counsel, Vickie Patton.

One email appears to have scheduled a meeting between Martin and Patton. In another email, Martin asks for the contact information of Patton’s “guy” in New York State government.

“To be clear, it does not appear that this transaction was an isolated incident,” the letter from Vitter and Issa said. “Rather, the body of emails suggests that you regularly used this personal email account to stay informed on matters relating to your official duties.”

In court documents, Martin denied using his personal account to conduct official business.

However, The DCNF reported that Patton sent two “email blasts” to Martin regarding EPA action concerning Navajo Nation, and forwarded another email concerning presentations about an EPA rule and government support of clean coal technology.

Five of the emails that were forwarded from Patton to Martin’s private account were sent as an “FYI,” about possible congressional action on EPA standards.

The letter also notes that the EPA has repeatedly warned its employees against using private emails to conduct agency business. In an October 2012 agency-wide email, the agency said “[t]his is a reminder to all EPA Employees that EPA prohibits the use of non-EPA E-Mail Systems when conducting agency business. This guidance is stated in Agency Records Training, New Employee Orientations and Briefings for Senior Agency Officials.”

The letter notes that Martin’s action may also be in violation of the Federal Records Act.

“We need to get this administration beyond just cleaning up the mess after they’re caught red-handed in flagrant violations of transparency laws and to address the root causes of failures to conduct public business transparently,” Issa added.

News of Martin’s use of a private emails account comes in the wake of news that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson used an alias email account under the fake identity “Richard Windsor.”

Now committees in both the Senate and the House are investigating whether Martin’s use of multiple email accounts is part of a broader problem within the EPA.

“We’ve seen EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s ‘Richard Windsor’ e-mails, and now we have a regional administrator who appears to be dodging the agency’s mandatory recordkeeping policy,” said Vitter. “The American people have to be wondering where this will stop. The EPA owes us all some answers about their absolute disregard for transparency.”

UPDATE: The EPA told the Hill in a statement that “the Regional Administrator does not use his personal email account to conduct official business. That Mr. Martin responded to one email sent to his personal email account to confirm a meeting that appears on his official government calendar does not alter that fact.”

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