Clear Political Bias Evident in Agency's Awarding of Fee Waivers on FOIA Requests
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2013 – It’s not just the IRS that treats groups on the right differently from the rest. According to documents obtained by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency is in on it too.
Public records produced by EPA in response to a lawsuit filed by CEI under the Freedom of Information Act illustrate a pattern of making it far more difficult for limited-government groups – in particular those who argue for more freedom and less EPA – to access public records.
Such groups are precisely those Congress and courts made clear FOIA was intended to protect from fees being used as a hurdle to obtaining information, without prejudice as to their perspective. Worse, CEI has now obtained proof of the spectacularly disparate nature of the practice, specifically revealing extraordinarily favorable treatment of the same green groups it’s been shown to be collaborating with on its agenda.
FOIA is clear that public interest groups who, by trade, obtain and broadly disseminate “government” information to the public are the intended beneficiaries of its provision for waiving fees. EPA routinely grants such fee waivers to its favored left-wing groups who demand a more intrusive and powerful EPA, but systematically denies waivers for groups on the right, according to research compiled by CEI Senior Fellow Christopher Horner, author of "The Liberal War on Transparency."
In a review of letters granting or denying fee waivers granted at the “initial determination” stage from January 2012 to this Spring, Horner found green groups, such as the National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and EarthJustice, had their fees waived in 75 out of 82 cases. Meanwhile, EPA effectively or expressly denied Horner’s request for fee waivers in 14 of 15 FOIA requests over this same time.1
Moreover, every denial Horner appealed was overturned. “That these denials are ritually overturned on appeal, not after I presented any new evidence or made any new point, but simply restated what was a detailed and heavily sourced legal document to begin with, reaffirms the illegitimacy of these hurdles EPA places in the way of those who cause it problems.” Horner said. “EPA’s practice is to take care of its friends and impose ridiculous obstacles to deny problematic parties’ requests for information.”
The numbers for a sampling of comparable “national” groups are mind-boggling. Of Sierra Club’s 15 requests, EPA granted 11. And Sierra Club received the harshest of treatments. In fact, EPA granted 19 of NRDC’s 20 requests and 17 of EarthJustice’s 19 requests. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility went a perfect 17-for-17. The Waterkeeper Alliance had all three of its requests granted, Greenpeace and the Southern Environmental Law Center each were 2-for-2, the Center for Biological Diversity 4-for-4.
That is, these green pressure groups encountered a cooperative EPA 92 percent of the time, but Horner’s requests on behalf of CEI and the American Tradition Institute were rejected more than 93 percent of the time.
EPA documents also showed Judicial Watch and the National Center for Public Policy Research each went 2-for-4, the Franklin Center had both its requests denied, and the Institute for Energy Research was denied in its only foray.
CEI has been recognized as a media outlet by federal and state agencies, so it is worth noting liberal media outlets, such as National Public Radio (7-for-7), ProPublica (3-for-3), the Nation and InsideClimateNews – all had all their requests granted over the same period.
“This is as clear an example of disparate treatment as the IRS’ hurdles selectively imposed upon groups with names ominously reflecting an interest in, say, a less intrusive or biased federal government,” said Horner. “This demonstrates a clear pattern of favoritism for allied groups and a concerted campaign to make life more difficult for those deemed unfriendly. 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.”
 Of CEI's two requests granted, one of these grants came after CEI had already sued for EPA ignoring its request outright, making the aberration no more than a transparent gesture EPA could claim in trying to convince the court it had not been obstructionist. This and other requests were simply ignored, a form of denial that EPA also employed in the present case that produced these records affirming EPA’s suspected practice.
CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information about CEI, please visit our website, cei.org, and blogs, Globalwarming.org and OpenMarket.org. Follow CEI on Twitter! Twitter.com/ceidotorg.