EPA Emails Reveal Collusion with Green Groups

Published October 22, 2015

A raft of documents seemingly showing collaboration and coordination between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental lobbyists to shape and support EPA regulations is raising serious questions about the integrity of the federal rulemaking process. 

In August, the majority staff on the Senate Environment and Publics Works Committee released a 72-page oversight report “Obama’s Carbon Mandate: An Account of Collusion, Cutting Corners, and Costing Americans Billions,” documenting hidden e-mail exchanges and secret meetings between EPA and environmental groups in the years leading up to the June 2014 release of the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

“These documents reveal excessive email exchanges on not only official government accounts but also use of private or alias accounts by senior EPA officials, meetings at EPA and off-site locations, and phone calls between NRDC and EPA staff dating back to early 2011,” the report says. “In particular, these exchanges demonstrate how EPA and NRDC sought to push the outer limits of EPA’s Clean Air Act authority, and to develop the analysis on which these highly controversial and legally suspect proposals are based. Despite public statements by EPA officials to the contrary, documents confirm that NRDC played a very integral and major role in developing these EPA policies.”

Documents Show ‘Cozy Relationship’

“It is also clear from these documents that the EPA policy makers and environmental activists had cozy relationships with one another on not only a personal level but from like-minded activism from years of working together,” the report went on.

 Among the report’s most significant findings are, “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to regulate carbon emissions from power plants were driven by Obama administration officials and environmental activists groups who worked together to fulfill the President’s climate commitments following the defeat of climate legislation in Congress and lack of support for an international climate treaty,” states the report. 

In addition, “EPA rushed into a ‘sue-and-settle’ agreement with environmental activists groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other environmental activists in 2010 to issue unprecedented carbon regulations,” and then manipulated, or delayed, rulemaking deadlines to avoid a public a public battle or publicity over proposed carbon dioxide limits in advance of the 2012 Presidential and 2014 midterm elections.” 

Aside from the timing, the report also found the Obama administration coordinated the public message surrounding the purported benefits of the rule. According to the report, “The White House, EPA, and environmental activists worked together to manage the public message on the carbon rules.” To avoid significant attention, public comments or objections, the report states, “EPA’s process for developing the carbon rules deviated from the Agency’s statutory authority under the Clean Air Act and established policies and circumvented transparency laws and public participation requirements.”

Mine Manipulation Revealed

The development the Obama administration’s climate policies is not the first time EPA has secretly collaborated with environmental groups to produce an outcome unfavorable to economic development. A similar pattern has been uncovered in EPA’s handling of the proposed Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska. 

Companies seeking to open a new mine are subject to an extensive, detailed permitting process. They are required to conduct multiple environmental impact analyses and obtain permits from multiple agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers EPA. EPA prevented the development of the Pebble mine in 2014, and documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal and the Pebble Partnership, the proposed mine’s developer, show EPA preempted the normal permitting process in a concerted effort to scuttle the project. 

On May 14, the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel reported, Phillip North, an Alaska-based EPA biologist, began working with high-level agency officials as early as 2010 to develop a strategy to kill the mine. North served as liaison with local activists, including Native Alaskan tribes opposed to the mine, assisting them in petitioning EPA to disapprove the mine. An Inspector General investigation forced the EPA to admit North used a private email address in his correspondence with mine opponents. 

The Inspector General uncovered at least “five instances where [Phil North] used a personal, non-EPA email” to conduct government business with a third party and failed to forward such emails into Agency systems.” North, facing numerous requests from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee to meet with its investigators, has fled the United States.

“EPA’s arrogance knows no bounds. It’s not just the overreach,” says Daren Bakst, research fellow in agricultural policy at the Heritage Foundation, commenting on the mounting number of instances EPA has been found to have worked off-the-record with environmental organizations to shape regulations. “For the recent water rule (WOTUS), they developed an aggressive social media campaign to get public support for the rule, acting more like an activist group than a government organization.” 

“The agency’s email shenanigans show that Congress needs to stop complaining about EPA and start taking action to ensure that this out-of-control agency implements the will of Congress and not the will of bureaucrats,” said Bakst. 

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D.([email protected].), is senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Internet Info

Majority Staff Report United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works 114th Congress, “OBAMA’S CARBON MANDATE: An Account of Collusion, Cutting Corners, and Costing Americans Billions,” August 4, 2015; https://heartland.org/policy-documents/obamas-carbon-mandate-account-collusion-cutting-corners-and-costing-americans-billi