Federal Courts

Judge rips EPA for 'offensively unapologetic' handling of conservative group's email request

A federal judge rebuked the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday for discriminating against a conservative group, saying the agency was either lying or apathetic in its response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

In a blistering 25-page opinion, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia said that although the Landmark Legal Foundation -- a conservative public interest law firm -- had not sufficiently proven that the EPA acted in bad faith against it to be awarded punitive damages, the EPA has been "offensively unapologetic" and "continues to demonstrate a lack of respect for the FOIA process." 

"It is obvious to this Court that EPA has, once again, fumbled its way through its legally unambiguous FOIA obligations," Lamberth wrote. 

In 2012, the Landmark Legal Foundation filed a FOIA request with the EPA seeking communications between senior agency officials and outside groups to determine whether the EPA postponed controversial regulations until after the 2012 election. 

However, the EPA performed inadequate searches of senior officials' email accounts -- including then-Administrator Lisa Jackson and deputy administrator Robert Perciasepe -- and initially failed to search Jackson's personal email account and Blackberry, even though she frequently used both to perform government business. Jackson's Blackberry was scrubbed after she resigned from the agency in February 2013. 

"Either EPA intentionally sought to evade Landmark's lawful FOIA request so the agency could destroy responsive documents, or EPA demonstrated apathy and carelessness toward Landmark's request," Lamberth said. "Either scenario reflects poorly upon EPA and surely serves to diminish the public's trust in the agency." 

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