Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, says that given his organization’s experience, as well as the experiences of other fossil-fuel industry groups, “it would not be surprising if this practice was as common as the critics say it is. It is surpassing strange that green activists seem to have a much easier time in getting documents and getting them way ahead of the curve.”
Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, tells me he’s experienced multiple delays when requesting public information from the EPA, and “the delay eventually becomes denial.” When he has received the information he requested, it’s often heavily redacted, “and we’re not talking about one word or sentence — sometimes, whole paragraphs or whole documents.”
The Chamber of Commerce has also experienced difficulties obtaining information from the EPA. Bill Kovacs, the senior vice president of environment, technology, and regulatory affairs, says that he sent a request in September asking for access to any of the EPA’s job-analysis reports done under Section 321 of the Clean Air Act. The EPA filed a request for extension in December, January, and February. In March, Kovacs says, the EPA told him that the computer system was changed, files had been damaged, and he’d have to begin his request all over again. “We’ve still never gotten a response,” he says.
In another instance, Kovacs explains, the Chamber of Commerce received “several boxes of totally worthless, redacted info. There was nothing in there that you could even read. The environmentalists get the FOIA. We don’t.”
The director of the American Tradition Institute’s environmental-law center, David Schnare, worked at the EPA for 33 years and says he personally experienced pressure to favor environmental groups. In an interview, he recalls one instance where the Natural Resources Defense Council submitted an information request, and he responded with a routine follow-up about the inquirer and her qualifications to determine whether a fee waiver would be appropriate.
Before long, Schnare says, his boss’s boss “called me in all pissed off. And I responded, ‘Hey, back off, this is what we do in government. It’s not a buddy system; we ask everyone the same questions.’ [But] he expected me to [yield to the requests of the NRDC].”
Green groups generally use the information they acquire from the EPA to sue private industry, Schnare explains. The EPA boss “viewed them as part of his operation,” he says, “because he didn’t have enough people to do what he wanted.”
The relationship between conservative organizations and the EPA “has never been this bad. It’s never been this blatant. . . . The refusal of the agency to [be] open, to be transparent — when their ideas are challenged is exactly when they need to be most transparent,” Shnare observes. “The EPA is out of control, and transparency is the only way to find out what they’re doing and why they’re doing that.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.