CEI Sues for EPA Official’s Private-Account Email

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 2, 2013 – Yet again, the Environmental Protection Agency has forced the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) to file suit over a stonewalled Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for public records that political appointees, and EPA, apparently did not want the public to see.

This time, CEI filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington to compel production of certain emails sent to or from Jared Blumenfeld, the Agency’s Region 9 (California and the Pacific Northwest) administrator who is the latest EPA official CEI has learned of using his personal email account to correspond on EPA-related matters.

Federal law is clear, as described by EPA to employees in its policy, stating: “Can I use a non-EPA account to send or receive EPA e-mail? No, do not use any outside e-mail system to conduct official Agency business. If, during an emergency, you use a non-EPA e-mail system, you are responsible for ensuring that any e-mail records and attachments are saved in your office’s recordkeeping system.”

Recently, Region 8 Administrator James Martin resigned after exposure of his use of a private account to conduct EPA-related correspondence, some of which CEI obtained in litigation settled last week.

On Feb. 26, after learning of Blumenfeld’s correspondence with former Administrator Lisa Jackson at her fictitious-employee “Richard Windsor” account, CEI sent a FOIA request to EPA seeking all records sent to or from or copied to Blumenfeld’s Comcast email address. EPA did not even acknowledge the request, the seventh FOIA request CEI has been forced to sue EPA over since October. Agencies have 20 working days to provide responsive records or a schedule on which they expect to produce.

“Although EPA could not be bothered to acknowledge CEI’s request, it did take the time to provide Sen. David Vitter with a legally misguided, airy dismissal of this most recent exemplar provided by CEI. Apparently, it is merely the latest in a long and growing series of unrelated isolated incidents,” said CEI Senior Fellow Christopher Horner, who filed the FOIA request. “This is the same line that EPA insisted upon in the case of former Region 8 administrator Martin. We now know this was not only was not true, but that EPA made the claim without even asking Martin if it were. That is, this EPA just makes things up to try and make its scandals go away and avoid accountability for rampant violations of the law.”

In CEI’s litigation, relating to Martin’s use of a private account to correspond with the pressure group Environmental Defense, EPA ultimately turned over dozens of pages of emails and attachments discussing EPA-related topics. Congressional investigators then obtained many more such emails to or from the same Martin account showing discussions among EPA officials, pressure groups, lobbyists and captains of rent-seeking industry.

After CEI’s experience in the Martin case and with officials deciding on specious grounds not to turn over responsive records, today’s suit also asks that Blumenfeld not be the person to determine which emails to his personal account pertain to agency business, for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons.

In the course of his investigation into EPA’s efforts to martial allies in favor of a war on abundant energy in general – and coal specifically – and as part of the research for his book, “The Liberal War on Transparency,” Horner discovered widespread use among agency officials of personal email and even alias email accounts to avoid FOIA scrutiny from both outside groups and Congress. Horner also has learned that EPA has been withholding instant messaging and text messages from private and congressional requesters.

>> Read CEI’s filed complaint here.