What is EPA Chief Lisa Jackson hiding?
Lisa Jackson is the boss at one of the most contentious government agencies in the Obama administration and is responsible for numerous controversial actions that will have a significant financial effect on American consumers: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
So it’s no wonder Congress is miffed to discover that her decision-making process on key issues was conducted in the most secretive manner Washington has ever devised—under an alias.
Jackson’s secret identity email account name is “Richard Windsor.” The name is part family dog (Richard) and part hometown (East Windsor, N.J.), and it turns out there are at least 12,000 recently discovered but as yet undisclosed emails using her government-approved pseudonym that has prompted two congressional inquiries and an inspector’s general (IG) investigation.
“Our objective is to determine whether EPA follows applicable laws and regulations when using private and alias email accounts to conduct official business,” said the IG’s notice last week announcing the audit.
Meanwhile, the congressional panels want to know how the use of an alias affects transparency—a practice that President Barack Obama pledged to uphold to the highest standard when he was first elected to that office.
“Over the past two years, the Energy and Commerce Committee initiated a number of oversight inquiries seeking information and documents relating to actions and policy decisions at the Environmental Protection Agency, including regulatory actions and major rulemakings that required your review or approval,” Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a Dec. 13 letter to Jackson.
“We recognize the utility of a secondary, internal email account for the conduct of agency business. We seek to understand whether conducting business with an alias has in any way affected the transparency of the agency’s activities …” the letter said.
EPA defends itself
The EPA defends the unusual practice that evidence suggests was first put into play by former President Bill Clinton’s EPA Chief Carol Browner, to avoid the millions of emails that pour into the public account listed on the agency’s website.
“We welcome an investigation into this. We don’t have anything to hide,” an EPA spokeswoman told the Washington Post.
The alias account was discovered by Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who revealed the findings in his recent book “The Liberal War on Transparency” (Simon & Schuster).
Horner described his findings as an epidemic of evasion using downright deception.
“On its face, it exhibits an intent to circumvent, frustrate, violate transparency laws,” Horner said. “If you have nothing to hide, why are you going to such great lengths to make it look like you do?”
The epidemic of evasion, using a private or alias email account to mask official business from Freedom of Information Act requests by the media, government watchdogs and the general public, as well as congressional subpoenas and document demands as part of official investigations, goes all the way to the White House, Horner said.
Jim Messina, Obama’s former deputy White House chief of staff and 2012 campaign manager, used his AOL account to lobby drug companies during the Obamacare debate, Horner said. And according to ABC News, the Obama administration coordinated a $150 million advertising campaign with pharmaceutical companies in support of the controversial law.
“The money for the ads was funneled through two Super PACs organized in party by White House officials, including the deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina,” ABC News said.
Additionally, the controversial deal to approve more than $500 million in government-backed loans for the now-bankrupt Solyndra solar panel company was executed on 14 separate private email accounts, Horner said.
Federal law requires that government employees use their official email account for government business.
“This is an epidemic,” Horner said. “Your sure do behave funny, all of you, for people who’ve got nothing to hide. It all comes back to, why use the fake identity? Clearly, this is a very deliberate campaign that’s government-wide.”
“The problem is the behavior top to bottom throughout this administration shows that they seem to think they’ve got plenty to hide,” Horner said.
Horner discovered the alias after reviewing a 2008 memo from the EPA to the National Archives disclosing they had a records management problem with this secondary account that was set to automatically delete emails after 90 days.
“All of that stunk,” Horner said.
Now embroiled in a lawsuit with the government to force the disclosure of Jackson’s secret emails, the Justice Department has revealed the existence of 12,000 emails either addressed to or authored by “Richard Windsor” that included one of four key words submitted by Horner for a search—coal, climate, endanger and MACT, a mercury rule expected to have a devastating impact on the coal industry and coal-fired electricity plants and raise rates for consumers.
“On its face, this is problematic,” Horner said.
Other important issues being decided by Jackson’s EPA are how to control so-called greenhouses gases, setting fuel standards for automobiles and approving an ethanol-based fuel that has been criticized by the AAA automobile association as harmful to some vehicles.
“This (alias email account) can only frustrate the law, because they are required to use this account for very obvious reasons—to keep a record of what they are doing. Not just for Freedom of Information Act requests, but for history. And who knows what’s going to come up in court later? No one had any idea that all of this ‘Richard Windsor’ email—and there is no EPA employee named Richard Windsor—would have been hers? That right there is just staggering that they let her do this,” Horner said.
Interestingly, the practice began with a government-approved alias for Clinton’s EPA chief Browner, who claimed in a lawsuit filed by Mark Levin’s Landmark Legal Foundation in 2000 that she did not use her government computer for email. However, a government contractor later testified that she ordered her hard drive and backup tapes destroyed.