Vitter: EPA FOIA scandal ‘no different than the IRS disaster’

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A Republican senator says allegations that the Environmental Protection Agency has made it more difficult for conservative groups to obtain information is no different from the burgeoning scandal at the IRS.

Shortly after the IRS admitted to targeting conservative groups, it was reported that the EPA has routinely denied fee waiver requests from conservative groups seeking government records, while at the same time, approving such requests to environmental groups.

“We know the Obama EPA has completely mismanaged FOIA, but granting fee waivers for their friends in the far-left environmental community, while simultaneously blocking conservative leaning groups from gaining access to information; is really no different than the IRS disaster,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement.

The free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute revealed that since January 2012 the EPA granted fee waivers for 75 out of 82 Freedom of Information Act requests sent by major environmental groups and only denied seven of them — a 92 percent success rate for green groups. However, the agency rejected or ignored 21 out of 26 fee waiver requests from conservative groups — an 81 percent rejection rate.

“Their practice is to take care of their friends and impose ridiculous obstacles to deny problematic parties’ requests for information,” said CEI senior fellow Chris Horner.

When a fee waiver is denied, it generally stops the FOIA request as many groups don’t have the resources to pay the fees associated to get the FOIA.

In advance of EPA nominee Gina McCarthy’s hearing Senate Republicans, led by Vitter, sent her five requests on transparency in the EPA. In one request, Republicans asked the EPA general counsel to issue new guidelines to ensure that all EPA business is done on official government email accounts.

The senators also requested that the general counsel establish “standards and procedures for responding fully, truthfully, and timely to FOIA requests and Congressional inquiries.” Lawmaker specified that the EPA “establish training regimes in these areas for all appropriate EPA staff, as well as penalties and procedures for dealing with deviations from the guidance.”

Vitter has previously hit the EPA over mismanaging FOIA requests, sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on the failure of the agency to properly process FOIA requests.

“[W]e have learned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has struggled to observe the President’s commitment to transparency: their staff is poorly trained, does not place a priority on responding to FOIA requests, and appears to be more interested in erecting barriers than in ensuring requests are promptly and properly fulfilled,” the letter reads.

Republican senators boycotted McCarthy’s first confirmation hearing because the EPA nominee hadn’t adequately answered the transparency questions posed by the committee. This new FOIA issue could present McCarthy with another obstacle to hear nomination.

“These requests are all about openness and transparency and things required by present law,” said Vitter. “We’re not asking the Obama administration to walk away from their views about carbon or anything else. We are asking for openness and transparency and we are asking that present law be followed in a full and fair and reasonable way.”

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