EPA Accused of Waiving FOIA Fees for Left-Wing Groups Over Conservative Ones

WASHINGTON – Dozens of congressmen are looking into claims from a conservative think tank that the Environmental Protection Agency is exhibiting favoritism toward liberal groups in addressing Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a report issued last month, maintains that the EPA is making it more difficult for groups that favor a smaller federal government to access public records.

Specifically, CEI asserts that the EPA is waiving FOIA fees for what it describes as left-wing groups – like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and EarthJustice – while it “systematically denies waivers for groups on the right,” according to CEI Senior Fellow Christopher Horner.

Horner said his research shows that from January 2012 to Spring 2013 the fees for “green” groups were waived in 75 out of 82 cases. Meanwhile, the EPA effectively or expressly denied his request for fee waivers in 14 of 15 FOIA instances over this same time period. Horner’s appeals of the EPA decisions to deny his fee waivers were rejected.

Further review, Horner said, established that “green” groups proved successful in getting their fees waived 92 percent of the time. Meanwhile, Horner’s requests for fee waivers on behalf of CEI and the American Tradition Institute were rejected more than 93 percent of the time. EPA documents further showed that other conservative groups encountered problems. Judicial Watch and the National Center for Public Policy Research each went two-for-four in waiver requests. The Franklin Center had both its requests denied and the Institute for Energy Research was rejected in its lone request.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), an EPA critic, said the FOIA fees “can exceed six figures for nonprofit organizations.”

“This demonstrates a clear pattern of favoritism for allied groups and a concerted campaign to make life more difficult for those deemed unfriendly,” Horner said. “The left hand of big government reaches out to its far-left hand at every turn. Argue against more of the same, however, and prepare to be treated as if you have fewer rights.”

The CEI claims have captured the attention of conservative lawmakers, some of whom have been fighting the EPA for years. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, who is still wrestling with the agency over regulations that affect the nation’s coal industry, blasted the EPA over “political favoritism occurring within its agency.”

Whitfield said the Obama administration is engaged in “a pattern of conduct in which this administration rewards its friends and punishes its opponents.”

“We are now finding out that EPA routinely grants fee waivers to its favored left-wing groups who demand a more intrusive and powerful EPA, but systematically deny waivers for free information from any group that EPA disagrees with,” Whitfield said. “America will not stand for a government that rewards its friends and punishes its opponents in this discriminatory fashion.”

During an appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month, Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe insisted that the agency’s policy is “to treat everybody the same.” Subsequently, the EPA asked its Office of Inspector General to review the matter. The OIG is still reviewing the request.