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Shielding EPA's McCarthy from scrutiny is what's 'totally bogus'

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Shielding EPA's McCarthy from scrutiny is what's 'totally bogus'

"Totally bogus."

That's how Joe Davis, environmental journalist and director of the Society of Environmental Journalists' WatchDog Project, describes "the concerns over fake emails."

By this, he means efforts by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and other groups to force the Environmental Protection Agency to make public more than 12,000 emails and other public records that detail its war on coal and other fossil fuels, including its collusion with Big Green special-interest groups.

Davis says Lisa Jackson's use of a fake name email account - Richard Windsor - "wasn't some made-up thing ... to fool us all. They're simply efforts to politically damage McCarthy and Lisa Jackson and EPA by people with an anti-regulatory agenda."

As the group at the center of this pursuit, we must say: Nonsense.

EPA officials have made clear they will go to any lengths -- even defying federal court orders -- to keep thousands of these emails from going public. And when they've been cornered, facing a choice between lying and revelation, they've chosen to resign rather than face the music.

On the day CEI revealed screen shots proving the fictitious employee's account was installed on Lisa Jackson's computers, her former deputy, and at the time general counsel, resigned.

On Dec. 27, after the Department of Justice agreed to begin turning over that account's emails, Jackson quit.

EPA's Region 8 administrator Jim Martin also left his job when scrutiny turned to his use of a non-official email account for EPA-related correspondence.

The agency also has not been forthcoming with the emails. Some have listed Gina McCarthy, President Obama's choice to replace Jackson as head of the EPA, as a recipient.

Almost all were heavily redacted, and few from McCarthy were produced -- which is odd since she was in charge of the program at the heart of our records request.

It seems likely there are thousands of emails EPA simply refused to produce, or redacted to uselessness. The law does not permit wholesale refusal to produce even simple factual information (the date, parties and subject of the emails, for example). It therefore seems EPA will break the law to protect McCarthy's nomination.

Emails we have seen reflect an unhealthy sensitivity to media coverage, which seems misplaced, given how protective "environmental journalists" obviously are of this crew.

One email advised Jackson what questions she could expect from a reporter later that day. EPA redacted the questions under the exception to FOIA for deliberations that are part of adopting an agency policy. Absurd, yes. But it reflects the rule, not the exception, of EPA's behavior on this.

Ironically, Davis is one of two signatories to a letter on the SEJ website urging the Senate to use the McCarthy confirmation to improve access to agency records.

Yet his ideological blinders apparently prevent him from grasping previous EPA administrators used more than one account, all of which showed their own name as the account holder, but Jackson alone had an account created in the name of a fictitious employee.

It is difficult to see how an actual journalist, as opposed to someone viewing themselves as EPA's protector, could miss that distinction.

Davis says there are more important aspects to EPA's transparency problems than these emails. Possibly, but why should that stop us from looking into communications sent to and from a nonexistent employee, on an account whose one obvious result would be to complicate and lead to violations of record-keeping and disclosure laws?

He acknowledges McCarthy may have misled Congress about greenhouse gas regulations and whether they would force coal-fired plants to switch to other fuels. He finds value, oddly, in our lawsuit seeking official instant messaging threads and in what he called the "agency-wide pattern of rebuffing the news media."

Those issues, too, are important. So important an independent inquiry and delaying McCarthy's nomination are in order. In the meantime, actual journalists should ponder the implications of EPA hiding thousands of emails from an account the public never was supposed to know about.