Group Sues EPA Over Instant Messages

A new lawsuit accuses U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials of using instant messaging to avoid revealing their communications to the public.

The plaintiff, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, believes the agency has either refused to search and turn over the records or, more seriously, has destroyed them.

"That would be a violation of the criminal code," said Chris Horner, attorney for the free market think tank. "They've got a real problem all over."

CEI also claims that EPA is refusing to waive fees associated with record searches despite the public relevance of the documents.

"They've stopped granting fee waivers to non-profits they don't like," said Hans Bader, an attorney for the group. "They're engaging in ideological discrimination." . . .

Some of those records confirmed that former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was using an false name on an email account, "Richard Windsor," for communications, said Horner.

One of the uncovered emails indicated that this "false identity" was first discussed in an "instant messaging" exchange, according to a recent complaint filed by CEI. . . .

Previous lawsuits filed by the group have led to some documents being turned over, but the agency is first producing "boring" documents while looking for reasons to exempt others from disclosure, CEI's attorneys said.

"They cough up what is most benign first," Horner said.

CEI isn't satisfied with much of the information turned over so far because the documents are heavily redacted or withheld altogether — particularly those pertaining to Gina McCarthy, an agency official whose been nominated to head the EPA, said Horner.

The litigation has spurred scrutiny from members of Congress, however, leading to the resignation of an EPA regional administrator, Jim Martin, over the undisclosed emails, he said.