Lisa Jackson quit as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency because of a recent decision by the Justice Department to release thousands of alias emails she wrote during her tenure, a Washington attorney suing the Obama White House for access to the documents said on Thursday.
"Life's full of coincidences, but this is too many," Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Fox News. “She had no choice.”
In a short statement, Jackson said she was leaving the EPA after four years for "new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference."
Neither the EPA, nor the Obama White House, provided any other explanation of Jackson’s resignation.
But Horner, who sued the administration on behalf of CEI for access to the documents earlier this year, told Fox that the scrutiny over the alias emails played an obvious role in Jackson’s resignation.
The documents — written by Jackson under the alias “Richard Windsor” — had drawn the scrutiny of Capitol Hill Republicans and are being audited by the EPA’s inspector general.
Jackson received the secondary email account from the EPA to communicate with other government officials, a practice Horner told Fox dates back to the Clinton White House.
The account’s name came from that of a family dog when Jackson lived in East Windsor Township, N.J., Politico reported in November.
Horner told Fox on Thursday that the alias emails might well contain information regarding the Obama administration's alleged "war on coal" and other sensitive information that Jackson did not want made public.
“She, by her action, told us that these are records she doesn't want the people to see," Horner told Fox.
Fox cited court documents in which the EPA agreed two weeks ago to release as many as 12,000 emails stemming from CEI’s Freedom of Information Act request. The first set of documents is to be issued by Jan. 14 — and others would continue at a rate of 3,000 documents per month, Fox reported.
A U.S. District Court in Washington approved the release schedule last week. The EPA is represented by the Justice Department.
EPA officials did not respond to a Fox request for comment on Horner's claims.
But in November, when news of the alias accounts was first reported, an EPA spokesman said the agency long had assigned internal and public email addresses to administrators.
“For more than a decade, EPA administrators have been assigned two official, government-issued email accounts: a public account and an internal account,” the EPA told Politico in a statement in November. “The email address for the public account is posted on EPA's website and is used by hundreds of thousands of Americans to send messages to the administrator.
“The internal account is an everyday, working email account of the administrator to communicate with staff and other government officials,” the statement said.
The situation was not new, top EPA officials in the George W. Bush White House told Politico, and they said they never thought that the internal account was secret.
Senior EPA leadership and EPA regional administrators had the email address, Politico reported, as did anyone to whom the administrator provided it.
The messages were all considered part of the public record.
And, regarding public records and FOIA requests, “both the public and internal accounts are reviewed for responsive records, and responsive records from both accounts are provided to FOIA requesters,” the agency told Politico in November.
But back then, and in recent weeks, criticism grew about the secondary email accounts, particularly the use of such an unusual alias with Jackson’s account.
“That they felt the need to create a nom de plume struck me as cloak and dagger,” a former EPA official with knowledge of the alias account told Politico in November.
Bradley Blakeman, a former senior Bush aide who founded the conservative group Freedom's Watch, told Fox then that the EPA arrangement “smells.”
“What good reason, if we use common sense, would there be for a high government official to have a fictitious email account?” Blakeman asked.
Further, congressional Republicans have recently queried Jackson on the accounts, especially the use of the fake name.
"While we understand the need for a secondary account for management and communications purposes, your choice to use a false identity remains baffling," Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology said in a letter to Jackson last week, Fox reported on Thursday.
And Horner told Fox that Jackson's account was a "deliberate, several-stage deception."
Earlier this month, the EPA’s inspector general's office confirmed to Fox that it was auditing the agency's "electronic records-management practices."
The office said that it would investigate whether the EPA was, among other things, encouraging the use of "private or alias email accounts to conduct official government business."
Throughout Jackson's tenure, the EPA has squared off publicly with the energy industry and Capitol Hill Republicans.
Goals for a cap-and-trade climate bill in Congress died early on in the Obama White House, but the EPA under Jackson did set new fuel-efficiency standards for U.S. vehicles, along with new rules for power plants.
Jackson also had a key role in pushing for a delay in the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline. And during her term, Republicans in Congress moved to block EPA regulations on coal and other industries.
For his part on Thursday, President Obama praised Jackson in a statement that did not reference the emails.
"Over the last four years, Lisa Jackson has shown an unwavering commitment to the health of our families and our children," he said, Fox reports. "Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink ... I wish her all the best wherever her future takes her."
And GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, also congratulated the outgoing EPA administrator.
"Lisa Jackson and I disagreed on many issues and regulations while she headed the EPA, however, I have always appreciated her receptivity to my concerns, her accessibility and her honesty,” Inhofe said in a statement provided to Newsmax. “She was one of the few at the EPA that was honest with me.
“She stated that the endangerment finding would be based on the U.N. IPCC, a science which was totally discredited in Climategate. She also had the courage to answer honestly when I asked her if passing cap-and-trade in the United States would lower worldwide CO2 emission, and, of course, she answered no.
“While so many other Obama administration appointees don't tell the truth, she did — and I hope that is not the reason for her departure.”
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