February 28 2014
The EPA’s Anti-Transparency Antics
Jillian Kay Melchior
The Environmental Protection Agency’s anti-transparency shenanigans are as entertainingly bizarre as they are pathetic.
The agency has been stonewalling Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and counsel for the Energy and Environment Legal Institute. If you recall, Horner is the public-records expert who discovered Lisa Jackson, the former EPA head, had been furtively conducting official business under the e-mail alias of “Richard Windsor.” After that discovery, he requested more of the correspondence from the “Richard Windsor” e-mail.
That must have freaked the EPA out. Last October, the agency told Horner it had found 120,000 such records – but it refuses to release more than 100 of those documents a month. In other words, Horner won’t be getting his records for literally a century. (Keep in mind the standard response is due in 20 days.)
A few weeks later, the EPA told Horner it would process several of his other public records requests after it was done with the Richard Windsor ones, putting their due date sometime past the year 2113.
Next, they sent Horner a note telling him that any of his requests – and the requests of any organization he was affiliated with – would be considered as being from a single requester. In other words, any of the groups Horner is affiliated with may face a decades-long wait time, too.
That’s not all. For another request, Horner had requested a fee waiver, which he justified by explaining ten separate times that the information would be “broadly disseminated” to the public. Without a fee waiver, agencies can charge to produce records, and, sometimes that cost is high enough to be prohibitive. That’s a nice trick when an agency doesn’t want the records released.
But the EPA denied Horner’s request – get this — on the grounds that he had “not expressed specific intent to disseminate the information to the general public.”
At least Horner seems to be approaching these EPA maneuvers with a sense of humor.
“They went from giving me a hard time to doing me a big favor,” he tells me. “I dug a pit, and I didn’t even layer it with palm fronds, and they dove right in. It’s going to go down as a classic of the genre. They have done everything they can to tell the court, ‘We don’t even read this anymore.’”
Rock on, Horner. And EPA, shame on you.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum.