But the GOP-controlled House appears to be in no mood to wait. A letter to Perciasepe dated June 5 informed him that the signatories, 35 Republican lawmakers, are “extremely concerned about the apparent bias shown in the FOI process at EPA.”
“This activity calls into question the objectivity of the FOI employees at EPA and undermines public confidence in an agency that is charged with protecting our air and water,” the letter said.
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative GOP caucus in the House, noted that information about the alleged favoritism displayed by EPA became public about the same time as the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice were being investigated for “abuses of power.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating claims that the IRS targeted Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. The panel also is trying to determine if Attorney General Eric Holder lied during testimony before the committee regarding his involvement in the Associated Press e-mail scandal.
“In the case of the IRS, as with the EPA, it appears as though conservative groups were targeted as well,” the letter said.
The lawmakers asked Perciasepe to inform them of who in the EPA is responsible for granting waivers and what sort of procedures are in place to assure that bias doesn’t occur in waiver requests.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, and Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee, sent their own letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. requesting information about how his office intends to conduct its investigation.
“EPA’s actions are cause for concern in light of similar allegations at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that the agency is targeting conservative political groups for unfair and improper screening,” the lawmakers wrote. “These discriminatory actions reflect an unfair and unequal application of the law, designed to clearly dissuade people and groups of a different political mindset than the administration. Such actions can have a chilling effect on the public, and raise questions about the integrity of critical agencies.”
As part of the review, Smith and Broun asked Elkins to determine “whether these are the actions of a few individuals, or the philosophy of leadership at EPA.”
Murphy said EPA critics, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, maintain the agency provides some green groups with “preferred customer status” to coordinate friendly lawsuits against the federal government in a procedure known as “sue and settle.”
An environmental group can use documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act to file lawsuits contending the EPA should apply tougher environmental regulations. Rather than engage in litigation, the EPA settles the lawsuit and accepts the environmentalists’ demands to impose stronger regulations.
The result, Murphy said, is billions of dollars in new regulations passed along to consumers in the form of higher electric bills.