EPA Tells Oversight Committee It Lost Investigation Emails, Too

Thursday, 26 Jun 2014 12:07 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The IRS isn't the only government agency that has lost emails that the House Oversight Committee wants to see as part of an investigation — now the Environmental Protection Agency said it is missing emails as well.

"I don't believe this is a missing hard drive issue," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told the Republican-led committee on Wednesday, CNN reported.  "There is a challenge getting access to the data on it ... I'm still hoping we recover all those emails."

Her admission came just as the committee was focusing on the Internal Revenue Service's contention that the hard drive on a computer used by former official Lois Lerner had been destroyed after it crashed, losing emails that Oversight says are crucial in its investigation into whether the agency improperly targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

The missing EPA emails belong to a biologist who had worked on a controversial mining project assessment for the Pebble Mine in Alaska. The Oversight Committee and the EPA's own inspector general are conducting separate investigations into whether the biologist or the EPA colluded with environmentalists on a negative review of the Alaskan project.

The EPA froze the permitting process for the mine after a review showed it could harm a nearby sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.

McCarthy's news about the missing emails was met with disapproval from Oversight Committee members.

"I heard similar testimony yesterday," Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina told her, referring to Tuesday's hearing about the missing Lerner emails.

Lerner's computer crashed in June 2011, according to IRS officials, resulting in the loss of records that are sought in investigations into the agency's targeting of conservative and tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status. At the time, the agency tried to recover the records, but without success.

McCarthy said the biologist in the EPA investigation was not a decision-maker in the permitting process, but instead was hired to give input for the science assessment. Further, she said no decisions have been made on Pebble Mine's permit.

Meadows asked her if the agency broke federal laws on record-keeping and if the biologist's emails were preserved, and she said the EPA has notified the National Archives and Records Administration about the hard-drive issue.

Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, demanded the EPA turn over the documents, which were subpoenaed last year.

"I am telling you, the time to comply is now," Issa told her. "If it is not complied with ... this committee will consider and vote on contempt. I hope that over the next few days our folks and your folks can resolve this with all the emails."


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