Senators press McCarthy on unanswered transparency questions

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Senate Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) are pressing President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency nominee, Gina McCarthy, on five major transparency concerns ranging from the agency’s email practices to the secret datasets they use in rulemaking.

According to a letter sent by the senators to McCarthy, four out the five transparency requests remain unresolved.

“For too long EPA has failed to deliver on the promises of transparency espoused by President Barack Obama, former Administrator Lisa Jackson, and by you,” the senators, led by EPW ranking member and Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter, wrote. “Accordingly, we find particular interest in continuing to determine if EPA remains entrenched in a process of secrecy.”

One unanswered request from the senators was that the EPA produce any emails from McCarthy’s private accounts regarding official agency business. At least two top EPA officials have been caught using private email accounts to conduct official business. Acting administrator Bob Perciasepe used his personal account to correspond with the alias email account of former administrator Lisa Jackson.

Former EPA Region 8 administrator James Martin used a private “me.com” email account to correspond with environmentalists. Martin resigned from his post at the EPA earlier this year.

The senators are also asking for the undisclosed datasets used by the EPA to promulgate air quality regulations. Last month, Sen. Vitter and Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith pressed McCarthy, who headed the EPA’s air quality office, to release non-publicly available data used in crafting the agency’s Clean Air Act regulations.

The secret datasets make up 85 percent of the EPA’s claim of $2 trillion in Clean Air Act benefits between 1990 and 2020, as well as the agency’s claim that benefits of Clean Air Act regulations exceed the costs by a 30:1 ratio.

“It is the job of the agency to make sure that personalities don’t get in the way of really discussing the science in a way that maintains the agency’s credibility,” McCarthy said at a September 2012 Union of Concerned Scientists event on public access to government scientific data. “And that’s the balance that we try to bring to it, is to just make sure we are really providing factual information, not a layer of assessment that is based on someone’s personal interest or advocacy.”

EPW Republicans are also pressing McCarthy on controversial “sue and settle” tactics that have been used by environmentalists to compel the EPA to issue more regulations. The senators request that all notices of intent to sue be listed and made publicly available on the EPA’s website. The senators also want the EPA to issue a notice of its intent to settle in the case of citizen suits and include intervenors during negotiations. According to the letter, the EPA has agreed to publish notices of intent to sue.

“Sue and settle” are lawsuits where the EPA quickly settles with an outside group — many of them being environmental groups — and is forced by a court order to promulgate new regulations.

Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana and Jeff Sessions of Alabama have previously criticized the Obama administration’s alleged use of “sue and settle” lawsuits with environmental groups to promulgate stricter environmental regulations.

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