Politics

No Sunshine? Florida Connection to Obama Environmental Agency Secret Emails Controversy

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: November 20, 2012 3:55 AM
Carol Browner, cover of Chris Horner's new book and Lisa P. Jackson

From left: Carol Browner, cover of Chris Horner's new book and Lisa P. Jackson | Credit: Peter Cutts - pubs.acs.org

The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has sent a letter to President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), demanding to know whether agency officials are using email aliases to avoid disclosing incriminating correspondence.

EPA officials say the use of such aliases is standard procedure and is a necessary measure for the efficient running of a federal agency, while an attorney associated with a prominent libertarian think tank tells Sunshine State News this is just one more layer of obscurity from a presidential administration that has promised to be the nation's most transparent.

“The use of these [hidden] accounts could seriously impair records collection, preservation, and access, therefore compromising transparency and oversight,” said the letter, signed by House Science Committee chairman Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Tx. “Unfortunately, time and again, actions by the administration on transparency have fallen far short of the president’s rhetoric, in many instances trending away from transparency and toward greater secrecy.”

Attorney Christopher C. Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Energy and Environment, tells Sunshine State News he documents this trend in his newest book, “The Liberal War on Transparency.”

Horner, the best-selling author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism,” tells the News that it was while he was conducting research for his latest book that he discovered the use of secret email accounts – both public and private – by federal agency administrators for the conducting of government business.

Mention is made of these accounts in a document obtained by Horner during the course of a public records request: an April 11, 2008 memo from John B. Ellis, agency records officer in EPA’s Office of Environmental Information, to Paul Wester of the National Archives and Records Administration. That note reads, in part:

“[I]n the 1990's, the Agency's Office of Environmental Information (OEI) (and its predecessor organization) assigned Administrators and Acting Administrators two e-mail accounts. . . . This dual-account structure was first implemented during former Administrator Carol Browner's tenure (January 12, 1993 - January 19, 2001) and it has been used by every Administrator or long-term Acting Administrator since that time. . . . Few EPA staff members, usually only high-level senior staff, even know that these accounts exist.”

Carol Browner’s name should be a familiar one to Floridians. Browner, a graduate from the University of Florida and the Fredric G. Levin College of Law, headed the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation from 1991 to 1993. She went on to head up the EPA during the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001, and from 2009 to 2011 was President Obama’s “Energy Czar” as director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

Her tenure under the Clinton administration ended under a cloud of some legal scandal. The day before President George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration, she had her computer files deleted, in violation of a federal judicial order that they be preserved so that a public records request for certain documents could be honored.

Two years later, the federal judge who issued that order held the EPA – though not Browner herself – in contempt of court. At the time, Browner claimed she didn’t usually use her work computer for work or email purposes, and just wanted to delete some computer games her son had installed on it. She also said she had been personally unaware of the judge’s previous order. 

Horner says the 2008 memo contradicts Browner’s previous testimony. That memo says that “the address for the secondary account generally uses a . . . name or word supplied by the [EPA] Administrator.”

“When you remember that she said she never used her work computer for email,” Horner explains, “then you sort of scratch your head when you see an EPA memo that says she actively participated in the design of the secret email account for herself.”

Horner’s current focus, however, is on the EPA’s current administrator, Lisa P. Jackson.

“I have had two former senior EPA officials contact me and say I should specifically look for ‘Richard Windsor,’ one of [Jacksons] email aliases,” Horner tells the News. “I have obtained -- not through the EPA – some emails to and from a ‘Richard Windsor,’ but there is no Richard Windsor in the EPA staff directory. I also have screen shot, from within the agency, of Richard Windsor’s IBM Lotus Notes account, which has been installed on Lisa Jackson’s computer.”

Horner has filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the EPA for information pertaining to these alias accounts, but they have so far gone answered. He has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in order to obtain those documents. 

Horner tells Sunshine State News he doesn’t know what the EPA might be hiding with these accounts, and refers readers to his new book to see just how these email aliases should be seen in the light of a well-documented pattern of obfuscation by the Obama administration.

“When researching [‘The Liberal War on Transparency’], I found a pattern of document destruction, an ongoing cyber-bonfire in the administration -- I have an affidavit to that effect,” he says. “I’ve found administration officials moving government correspondence over to AOL and Gmail [in order to avoid public detection]: Jim Messina [Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations] used his AOL account to orchestrate the deal with the drug companies for Obamacare, and did not make a copy of it for public record. And now I find these secret email accounts?

“You’re not supposed to do all this [if you’re a government official]. You’re supposed to keep a record for history, not step outside of transparency laws.”

He says he’s not sure what he’ll discover by the shining of light on these secondary email accounts, but he offers a couple of possibilities which relate to the Obama administration’s “backdoor Cap-and-Trade” scheme to regulate the coal industry unilaterally, without explicit congressional authorization.

“Perhaps the documents will show [EPA officials] knew they were really torturing the law in order to get [to the new policy],” he suggests. “Maybe [new disclosures] will show that EPA officials haven’t been searching very thoroughly when honoring previous FOIA requests.”

Speculations aside, Horner insists that the sanctity of the principle of government transparency is more important than whatever he might or might not find buried in some email accounts.

“The beauty of [the Freedom of Information Act] is it’s identity-neutral and it’s also motive-neutral,” he tells Sunshine State News. “We [the taxpayers] pay for these records; they’re public records. But we have an epidemic of secretiveness among a group of people who apparently concluded that the [citizenry] wanted to hear that they would be the most transparent administration ever, and now we find that even left-wing groups say they are among the least transparent.

“These things I point out in my book, they are threads that need to be pulled, bread crumbs that need to be followed.”

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

Comments (4)

JASON BUCKWHEAT
8:07AM NOV 25TH 2012
GOOD JOB IT TIME THESE PEOPLE ARE BROUGHT OUT IN TO THE DAYLIGHT, FOR THE PEOPLE WHOM THEY WORK FOR CAN SEE HOW THEY CONDUCTED THEMSELVES IN THERE POSITION OF TRUST THAT WE THE PEOPLE HAD ELECTED THEM TO. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK ERIC!
Frank
11:40AM NOV 26TH 2012
It's simple, you fill out an information request and ask . . . but, of course you won't know that if you only read the right-wing press, now would you . . . . if you want access even easier, convince your Congressman of the need for a true federal "Government in the Sunshine" law . . . Republicans just love that . . . . just ask Dick Cheney . . .

Oh, and by the way, these aren't elected officials, no more than Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr., of the Florida DEP is elected . . . it helps to get your facts right, even if you are part of the far-right . . . oh well, at least you pronoun Eric as the activist, partisan journalist he is . . .

Pathetic . . . .
Frank
10:15AM NOV 21ST 2012
Yeah, of course it's not like the EPA has two systems to separate internal and external emails, now is it . . . . . .

Jumped the gun, again . . . .pathetic . . . .
dj ee
9:58AM NOV 20TH 2012
Very nice advertisement for "his new book." This article tells us nothing new though. But keep it up.

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