Judge Holds Clinton EPA in Contempt of Court

Published September 1, 2003

Federal District Judge Royce Lamberth on July 24 held the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in contempt of court for violating his order not to destroy computer files regarding rules enacted in the last days of the Clinton administration.

In January 2001, Lamberth had issued a restraining order against EPA after the Landmark Legal Foundation sued the agency over alleged Freedom of Information Act violations. The Landmark suit, filed in the fall of 2000, alleged EPA had unlawfully refused to relinquish documents regarding its rulemaking activities. Landmark had asked for the documents in conjunction with its assertion that the Clinton EPA had improper ties to special-interest activist groups.

When reports began surfacing that EPA was hastily preparing to enact dozens of new rules in the last days before President Clinton left office, Lamberth on January 3, 2001, ordered the agency not to destroy any files or records regarding the last-minute rules. Nevertheless, then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner erased her computer’s hard drive on the very day Lamberth issued his order, and Deputy Administrator W. Michael McCabe deleted numerous relevant emails in the days immediately following Lamberth’s order.

EPA has admitted that several other Clinton administration officials also reformatted their hard drives shortly after President George W. Bush’s inauguration, in defiance of the court order and contrary to government policy.

The contempt ruling requires EPA to reimburse Landmark for tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses. Neither Browner, McCabe, nor any other EPA officials will be held personally responsible for their conduct.

“This is a major victory for those who believe the EPA has an obligation to comply with the law,” said Landmark President Mark Levin. “The EPA destroyed vast databases that would have revealed the extent to which Carol Browner and other top officials worked with environmental groups to issue last-minute regulations prior to the end of the Clinton administration.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

about the Landmark Legal Foundation, visit its Web site at http://www.landmarklegal.org/.