Hearing tomorrow to examine unlawful destruction of EPA records

Washington, D.C. Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today authorized a subpoena to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compelling them to provide all documents related to the agency’s preservation of text messages and other electronic communications, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Smith’s subpoena follows several other Committee requests, including a letter to the EPA Office of Inspector General on November 10, 2014, and a letter to the EPA on January 27, 2015, requesting all e-mails and text messages from agency officials. On February 26, 2015, the EPA provided information to the Committee that failed to include several documents responsive to the Committee’s request, including any text messages or agency policy and procedures for the period of 2009-2012. On March 6, 2015, the Committee sent a second letter reiterating its previous request for a complete response. The EPA has failed to turn over these documents. 

According to the EPA, Administrator McCarthy received only one text message that qualifies as a federal record during her tenure at EPA. Coincidentally, that one text message was preserved nine days after receiving the Committee’s January 27, 2015 letter. The text, from Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters, stated:

“[g]reat job on the EPA comments on keystone.  I feel like the end is very near….”

The EPA and the League of Conservation Voters have often worked toward similar goals, including pushing for Administrator McCarthy’s Senate confirmation and efforts to block the Keystone XL pipeline.

Chairman Smith: “Of the almost 6,000 text messages sent by Administrator McCarthy over a period of several years, it is difficult to believe that only one was related to EPA business. The single text message produced by EPA was received at the start of this year, within days of receiving a letter of inquiry from this Committee. The EPA’s pattern of withholding, concealing and possibly destroying records must come to an end.  The American people deserve an open and honest government.

“Because EPA has refused to provide a complete production of records in response to the Committee’s repeated requests, I am left with no alternative but to issue a subpoena to compel EPA to produce unredacted cellular phone billing records and e-mails relevant to the Committee’s oversight.”

Additionally, tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittees on Oversight and Environment will hold a hearing titled, Destruction of Records at EPA – When Records Must Be Kept. The hearing will clarify when the Federal Records Act applies to certain information and how it has been implemented at the EPA.

The hearing and subpoena follow other recent concerns surrounding the agency’s lack of transparency. On March 2, 2015, a federal court issued an opinion raising concerns about the agency’s process for responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. According to news reports, a federal judge called the EPA’s handling of a 2012 FOIA request “suspicious.”  The court found that “the agency either intentionally sought to evade the FOIA request in order to destroy documents or demonstrated extreme apathy and carelessness.” Further, a report by the Center for Effective Government, Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard, recently gave the EPA a “D” in information access.

The cover letter to the subpoena can be found here.