Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees who publicly criticized the Trump administration are crying foul after a Republican group filed a public information request against them, according to a Sunday report from The New York Times.
A Republican campaign group made public information requests for the emails of three agency employees who communicated with congressional Democrats critical of the EPA. The targeted employees believe the EPA is orchestrating a type of fishing expedition against its critics.
“This is a witch hunt against EPA employees who are only trying to protect human health and the environment,” Gary Morton, an agency employee in Philadelphia, told TheNYT Friday. “What they are doing is trying to intimidate and bully us into silence.”
The requests came from a lawyer working with America Rising (AR), a Republican research group that trawls networks to find damaging information on Democrats and political rivals. TheNYT’s report also attempts to tie AR’s requests to that of Definers Public Affairs, which is loosely tied to AR and was recently hired by the EPA to provide media clips for the agency.
An EPA official dismissed claims that Definer is conducting intelligence-gathering support for AR to expose the agency’s critics – the group signed a $120,000 contract with the agency for media outreach support.
“Definers was awarded the contract to do our press clips at a rate that is $87,000 cheaper than our previous vendor, and they are providing no other services,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox wrote in an email to reporters.
Allan Blutstein, a lawyer and a top executive with AR and Definers, was responsible for preparing the Freedom of Information Act requests aimed at the employees. The requests were more of a “fishing expedition,” he told TheNYT of the nearly 20 FOIA requests he filed.
The bulk of the emails submitted ask for correspondence between the employees and members of congress, such as Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, both of whom are vehement opponents of President Donald Trump’s climate policies.
“We have seen a lot of nefarious activities from Trump,” Whitehouse told reporters. “But hiring a fossil fuel front group that specialize in political hit and is doing FOIA investigations of your agency’s own employees is a new low.”
TheNYT’s Sunday report comes as a growing number of EPA employees during the Obama administration complain that the Trump administration is targeting them for speaking out.
The EPA canceled speaking appearances in October of three agency scientists who were scheduled to discuss aspects of global warming at a Rhode Island press conference. They could attend but not speak at the State of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed program in Rhode Island.
The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program is funded through the EPA’s $26 million National Estuary Program, which funds 28 state-based estuaries and delivers about $600,000 to the program.
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