CEI Files Groundbreaking Lawsuit against EPA for Hiding Agency Records on Private E-mail Accounts

Washington, D.C., September 11, 2012 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute today filed suit in federal district court for the District of Columbia challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to shield a senior official’s practice of hiding public service on private e-mail accounts that only he controls or can access.

The complaint demonstrates the epidemic in the Obama administration of moving controversial actions to non-public e-mail accounts.  By exposing this practice, the suit will pave the way for obtaining all such public records stashed in private corners and thus out of reach of the nation’s transparency laws, which clearly prohibit this kind of activity.

In May, CEI filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking correspondence between EPA Regional 8 Administrator James Martin and the Environmental Defense Fund, where Mr. Martin had previously worked as a senior attorney. CEI’s FOIA request was aimed at determining the extent to which policymaking in the Obama Administration is being coordinated with outside environmental pressure groups.

CEI expressly extended its request to cover information from Mr. Martin’s non-official e-mail accounts, based on his clear history of using such accounts to perform official business. For five months, however, EPA has refused to produce these e-mails, claiming that records “sent to a personal email address” are not agency records. EPA has also stonewalled CEI’s administrative appeal, refusing to provide a response and make its arguments on the record for CEI to challenge. As such, CEI’s suit seeks to compel the release of these records.

“Transparency in government is the subject of high-profile promises from President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder,” said CEI Senior Fellow Chris Horner, author of the forthcoming book, The Liberal War on Transparency: Confessions of a Freedom of Information “Criminal”. “In fact, they’ve argued forcefully against the very activity that is the target of this litigation—namely, subverting open government by conducting official business through non-official channels.”

Horner continues, “Worse, as we point out, this practice is organized and systematic throughout the ‘most transparent ever’ administration. In light of the prevalence of this subversive procedure, today’s lawsuit will have wide-ranging ramifications for the cause of transparent government.”

To read the complaint, click here.