Allies of the Environmental Protection Agency get preferential treatment while watchdog agencies are stonewalled and charged unlawful fees for information, according to a lawsuit filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Washington.
CEI is suing the EPA to reveal why it refuses to waive fees for Freedom of Information Act requests from CEI and other nonprofits that disseminate information in the public interest, as required by law. The suit seeks to force the EPA to reveal how evenly its FOIA policies are applied to friendly groups and transparency organizations. CEI originally sued for records related to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s “Richard Windsor” alias email account. But for the past year, the EPA has refused to waive fees and delayed releasing the emails until forced in court to do so beginning in January. “CEI’s success at uncovering and disseminating public information – including former Administrator Lisa Jackson’s false-identity email account in the name of ‘Richard Windsor’ – has led EPA to decide to block CEI from further discoveries and to impose fee barriers on other groups deemed hostile to EPA’s agenda,” said Christopher Horner, a senior fellow and attorney for CEI.
Both the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and the National Center for Public Policy Research have received similar treatment from the EPA, according to CEI.
The Franklin Center requested EPA communications with outside groups that support federal regulation of fracking. EPA similarly denied Franklin’s request for a fee waiver. “CEI and other organizations have experienced questionable and even plainly improper fee-waiver denials, while groups with an uncomfortably close relationship with this EPA have grown accustomed to near-immediate turnaround,” said Horner. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a New Orleans environmental group, got near-overnight service on its request for documents, CEI said. The EPA’s cooperation with “friendlies” and obstruction of transparency groups is also evident in the emails the agency has released, as The Washington Examiner previously reported. The heavily redacted emails show the EPA’s eagerness to work with media outlets and public officials who will cast the agency in a good light. CEI and the American Tradition Institute have also sued for access to the EPA’s instant message chats from Jackson’s “Windsor” account and chats related to Obama administration’s “war on coal,” which the groups say should have been part of the electronic records requests that forced EPA to release the Windsor emails.