EPA: Um, yeah, we totally had a hard drive crash that wiped out crucial emails, too
Not a joke. Not a satire. Not the Onion. It’s from National Journal, to be specific.
The House Oversight Committee has been investigating improper communication between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, leaving chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) to enjoy the usual leisurely stroll along an Obama Administration stone wall. Having run out of show tunes to hum while he waited for his subpoenas to be fulfilled, Issa threatened to hold EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in contempt. A testy hearing ensued, with the usual Democrat clown act insisting that Congressional oversight is totally unnecessary for this super-genius Administration of totally honest men and women, especially when they’re grappling with the non-existent problem of “climate change,” which is so urgent that neither the people nor their elected representatives can be given any say in the matter.
And then this happened:
The hearing also included a bit of deja vu for the committee when members grilled McCarthy on lost emails from a hard-drive crash (the same issue that wiped out emails from IRS employee Lois Lerner). In this case, the emails in question were from retired EPA employee Philip North, who was involved in the agency’s decision to begin the process of preemptively vetoing the Pebble Mine project in Alaska.
North, who declined an interview request by the committee, is retired, and committee staff say they have been unable to track him down. According to a committee aide, North’s hard drive crashed in 2010—which was around the same time that the committee is investigating the agency’s discussions of a potential veto—and the emails were not backed up.
McCarthy said it appeared there were some emails the agency could not produce that should have been kept, but she was still working to see if they could be recovered. McCarthy made it clear that it was a small set of emails and that the agency had notified the National Archives of the problem Tuesday, though had told Oversight Committee staff earlier.
Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, raised concerns that the failure to back up the emails was a violation of the Federal Records Act.
Ah yes, the “same issue” that not only hit Lois Lerner, but six other key figures in the IRS scandal. Maybe the same unexpectedly cold weather that made the economy contract is causing government hard drives to freeze and shatter.
Given that the very subject of these hearings was the White House helping the EPA stonewall Congressional investigation, I’m sure a hearty laugh about the familiar “destroyed hard drive / no backups / what’s the Federal Records Act?” routine was had by all. It will be even funnier when American citizens who find themselves on the wrong side of Obama’s out-of-control EPA begin claiming they cannot provide certain information due to hard drive crashes.
It’s too bad there’s no way for our gigantic mega-government to get in touch with Mr. North. If only we had some sort of agency that spent a lot of time monitoring people’s communications, I’ll bet they could help find him! Or maybe one day science will invent little telephones that people can carry in their pockets, capable of making phone calls from almost anywhere in the world. I know it sounds very Star Trek, but we live in an age of wonders. I’ll bet even hard-drive crashes will become incredibly rare someday.
This isn’t the first time the EPA has run into a little trouble with shady email practices. Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson actually created an imaginary alias, “Richard Windsor,” so she could have relaxed conversations with lobbyists. Say, could we ask Richard Windsor if he knows where Philip North is?
Here’s what North was mixed up in, from an April 2014 piece in the Washington Times:
Though President Obama has repeatedly urged that science guide environmental decisions, regulators inside the Environmental Protection Agency secretly worked with tribal and environmental activists to preempt a full review of an Alaskan mine and veto the project before the owners’ permits could be considered, internal memos show.
Charged with being neutral arbiters, EPA officials instead began advocating for a preemptive veto of the Pebble Mine project in western Alaska as early as 2008, long before any scientific studies were conducted or the permit applications for the project were even filed, the emails obtained by The Washington Times show.
“As you know I feel that both of these projects (Chuitna and Pebble) merit consideration of a 404C veto,” EPA official Phillip North wrote in an email suggesting that the mining project’s rejection be added to the agenda of an agency retreat in summer 2009.
EPA wouldn’t even announce the beginning of a scientific review of Pebble Mine until 2011, two years after Mr. North’s email, but discussion of a pre-emptive veto dominated internal discussions inside the agency for much of the three years beforehand.
At the same time, EPA officials had regular contacts with potential opponents of the mining project, coordinating activities with environmentalists and even coaching local tribes on how they could strengthen their case opposing the project.
“Tribes have a very special role in Pebble issues because of government-to-government relations,” Mr. North wrote to an Alaskan tribal leader in June 2010. “EPA takes that very seriously. I encourage you to develop that relationship as much as you can.”
The efforts to get EPA to veto the project before the Army Corps of Engineers could evaluate the engineering and scientific impacts reached all the way to top officials in Washington.
A presentation prepared in 2010 for then-EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made clear that a preemptive veto “had never been done before in the history” of the Clean Water Act and could risk litigation.
EPA eventually conducted a narrow scientific review and preemptively vetoed the mine project this February, before the Army Corps of Engineers could decide the permits for the project on the scientific and technical merits.
For the benefit of you laymen out in flyover country, that’s how “science” works: conclusion first, then hypothesis, then maybe some data, if you can find the time to gather any, and it doesn’t interfere with your conclusions.
And is there any sight more heartwarming than the government organizing people to lobby itself on behalf of its own agenda? That’s what the fathers of the Revolution had in mind, when they pledged their lives and fortunes to fight the British crown.
In completely unrelated news, EPA employees in Denver have apparently taken to crapping in the hallways of their regional office building, prompting a stern memo from the Deputy Regional Administrator. (This is clearly the sort of thing you get stuck with handling if you’re only the Deputy Regional Administrator.) Let us unite in bipartisan support of the effort to cut down on the number of deuces dropped in government buildings. Now, can we get them to stop dumping all over the rest of America while we’re at it? Can we at least have another discussion about the wisdom of entrusting our sensitive health-care information to a government that can’t even keep track of its email?