Transparency? EPA Under Investigation for Using 'Alias' Emails to Avoid FOIA Requests

December 18, 2012 - 7:37 AM
Lisa Jackson, EPA

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at the climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Inspector General says it will investigate whether EPA officials -- including Administrator Lisa Jackson -- used alias email accounts to conduct official government business, thereby shielding those communications from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Jackson reportedly used the name "Richard Windsor" on an official email account from which she may have sent messages on the administration's coal policy.

Chris Horner of the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute says he discovered Jackson's "false identity" while doing research for his book, "The Liberal War on Transparency.”

Horner said he came across an "obscure" EPA memo indicating that the alias email accounts were instituted by former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who designed her own secret address for an account that was set to 'auto-delete.'" (Browner, who served as EPA administrator in the Clinton administration, also served President Obama as director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy from 2009 to 2011.)

Horner says the Justice Department, in response to a lawsuit filed by CEI, has acknowledged that 12,000 emails from Jackson's "secondary" email account discuss the Obama administration's "war on coal."

“'Richard Windsor.' That is the name — sorry, one of the alias names — used by Obama’s radical EPA chief to keep her email from those who ask for it," Horner wrote last month on National Review Online.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, says it's possible that other EPA officials also are using secondary email accounts and aliases, thereby  hampering Congress' ability to conduct oversight of the EPA.

“In addition to interfering with transparency at the EPA, these practices could be used to avoid requests made under the Freedom of Information Act and congressional scrutiny,” Stearns wrote in a recent letter to Lisa Jackson. Stearns and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have asked Jackson to "describe fully the nature and extent of this practice.”

The EPA's Office of Inspector General said it is conducting its audit "to determine whether EPA follows applicable laws and regulations when using private and alias email accounts to conduct official business."

Among other things, it will examine whether EPA "promoted or encouraged the use of private or alias email accounts to conduct official government business."

"Hopefully the IG and House committees can get to the bottom of this and other deceptive, unlawful and in some cases criminal practices to hide what the Obama administration and its allies are up to," CEI's Horner said on Monday.