EPA:

Groups file lawsuit seeking access to key officials' instant messages

Concerned that top U.S. EPA officials use instant messaging technology to get around federal disclosure requirements, two free-market groups have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking access to those records for three current and former agency officials.

The joint suit, filed late last week by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and American Tradition Institute (ATI), specifically seeks instant-message conversations involving former Administrator Lisa Jackson; air chief Gina McCarthy, whom President Obama has nominated to succeed Jackson; and former senior climate adviser Lisa Heinzerling, now on the faculty at Georgetown Law School and a fellow with the Center for Progressive Reform.

CEI is seeking all of Jackson's conversations relating to climate initiatives, coal regulations and, specifically, maximum achievable control technology rules. ATI wants any conversations that McCarthy and Heinzerling had relating to the Sierra Club, the Center for Progressive Reform and the American Lung Association.

The two groups believe that in responding to open record requests, EPA does not include electronic records contained on its IBM Sametime instant messenger and Oracle Messenger systems. The groups noted in a release announcing the suit that CEI only discovered the existence of the systems through a previous records request in which an instant message conversation was referenced in an agency email that was released to the group.

CEI's involvement in the suit is being spearheaded by senior fellow Christopher Horner, who last year uncovered EPA's practice of assigning alternative email accounts to agency administrators. That practice has also sparked concern from Capitol Hill and outside watchdog groups about whether such addresses violate federal record-keeping laws (Greenwire, Jan. 24).

"Based on information we have obtained, it seems we have uncovered another major transparency scandal," Horner said in a CEI release yesterday evening. "In addition to important conversations both inside the agency and with outside parties, we expect this suit to provide important information about EPA's compliance with the law and Congress' legitimate oversight activities."

EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said this morning that the agency would review the lawsuit. The court gives EPA 30 days to respond to the filing.