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OPINION

EPA tries hard to keep nominee Gina McCarthy 'clean' before confirmation hearings

FILE -- Feb. 21, 2013: Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency, speaks at a climate workshop sponsored by the Climate Center at Georgetown University in Washington.AP

It's as brazen a defiance of the law as Washington has seen, and the perpetrators are going to get away with it unless things change quickly.

The Environmental Protection Agency has bobbed and weaved, defied court orders, made a mockery of the FOIA process and spent barrels of ink redacting its clearly public records ... all to keep Gina McCarthy clean until she can be confirmed in the Senate to become the agency's next administrator.

The Environment and Public Works Committee will vote this week on McCarthy's nomination. Senators should not act on her nomination until she orders the veil lifted and lets Americans know her record with regard to President Obama's war on coal and efforts by the administration to build outside support for a carbon tax.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute and a others have been after EPA since last fall for emails about its coordination of outside support for President Obama's energy and environment agenda.

There is a culture of secrecy at EPA characterized by widespread use of email aliases and illegal use of private email and messaging accounts to conduct agency business outside of the public's view.

CEI's Christopher Horner has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for former Administrator Lisa Jackson's emails on coal and carbon. When he found out she also had a fake name account -- Richard Windsor was her handle -- he FOIA-ed those records, too.

When he found out that Jackson and top staffers, including McCarthy, communicated through IMs and texts, he FOIA-ed those. 

EPA has responded with emails that were either irrelevant or comically redacted. Or it has missed deadlines or declined to produce documents despite court orders. Finally, as CEI alleged in a suit this week, it simply refused to acknowledge the requests.

As a result, we've learned little about Jackson's thoughts and deeds and considerably less about McCarthy's. 

Virtually none of the 9,000 emails EPA has turned over -- almost all heavily redacted -- are from McCarthy. Which is odd since the search was for coal and carbon and McCarthy now heads EPA's Air and Radiation Office.

This experience also told us there is a culture of secrecy at EPA characterized by widespread use of email aliases and illegal use of private email and messaging accounts to conduct agency business outside of the public's view-- and that McCarthy is an active enabler of and participant in that culture.

Something must be up. When the Richard Windsor account was revealed, Jackson's senior counsel quit. When it became clear her emails would have to be turned over, she quit. When Region 8 Administrator Jim Martin was caught using private email for public business, he quit.

That's a lot of quitting and a lot of obfuscating, and the Senate should demand answers before it moves on McCarthy.

Brian McNicoll is Senior Director of Communications for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.