Tags: Trump Administration | EPA | Pruitt

Democratic Lawmaker Challenges Pruitt on EPA Public Records

Democratic Lawmaker Challenges Pruitt on EPA Public Records
Rep. Elijah Cummings (AP)

Monday, 11 June 2018 02:25 PM

Top political appointees of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt directed that they review in advance all of the public records released by the agency under the Freedom of Information Act, according to EPA emails disclosed Monday by a senior House Democrat.

The emails sent by EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson and an agency legal counsel, Jonathan Newton, last June and July laid out a system for Pruitt's political appointees to review any FOIA record releases, something also carried out by a handful of agencies in the Obama administration. Jackson calls it a "centralization pilot project" for records requests at the EPA.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote Pruitt on Monday to express concern the administrator was avoiding releasing public records.

In response, EPA spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell told The Associated Press the agency was handling several times the FOIA requests the EPA received under the Obama administration, "and the agency is working to release them in a timely manner."

Journalists, interest groups and others routinely use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from the federal government. The act is designed to be insulated from political considerations, so that government information that does not jeopardize national security or personal privacy is accessible to the public at large.

The Obama administration at times also subjected records requests to scrutiny by senior political advisers. A 2010 report by The Associated Press, for example, found that the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama had instituted such reviews.

Pruitt is dealing with a series of federal investigations regarding allegations of ethical misconduct. Several of the allegations came to light through EPA documents released under the federal open records law.

"Given the vast number of allegations against you, the American people deserve more transparency regarding your actions_not less," Cummings wrote.

Cummings cited a 2015 report by the EPA inspector general's office in which EPA staffers told investigators that political appointees under the Obama administration only rarely became involved in the EPA's release of records under the federal information act.

Jackson's directive to EPA staffers under Pruitt says the oversight by senior staffers is meant to "ensure appropriate consultation with senior officials in the relevant offices through the life cycle of a request," according to the emails released by Cummings.

The Maryland Democrat's letter did not say whether the review process under Pruitt materially altered the agency's response to any of the requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, Sarah Greenwalt, a legal counsel to Pruitt whose resignation the EPA abruptly announced last week, told staffers of the oversight committee last month that she had recommended some redactions to documents as part of the reviews, according to testimony released by Cummings. The committee had requested appearances this spring by Greenwalt and other current and former top Pruitt aides.

According to accounts from Greenwalt and two other former EPA staffers to the committee, Pruitt himself proposed that the EPA should follow a "first-in, first-out" policy on FOIA returns, responding to old requests pending from the Obama administration before moving on to requests for documents dating from his tenure.

"When Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA he inherited a backlog of FOIA requests, and over the last year and a half, EPA has worked tirelessly to clear this backlog," Daniell, the agency spokeswoman, said.

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Top political appointees of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt directed that they review in advance all of the public records released by the agency under the Freedom of Information Act, according to EPA emails disclosed Monday by a senior House...
EPA, Pruitt
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2018-25-11
Monday, 11 June 2018 02:25 PM
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