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EPA administrator's email account raises concern

House GOP leaders and a watchdog group say EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson uses a secret email account to shield correspondence. The EPA denies any malfeasance.

November 20, 2012|By Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times
  • A nonpartisan government watchdog group is seeking an investigation into a government email account that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson uses under the name Richard Windsor.
A nonpartisan government watchdog group is seeking an investigation into… (Jim Lo Scalzo / Bloomberg…)

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders and a watchdog group have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to respond to allegations that Administrator Lisa P. Jackson has been using a secret private email account to do official business, purportedly to shield correspondence from the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

On Tuesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan good-government group, sent a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. requesting an investigation into a government email account Jackson has under the name Richard Windsor. The request follows a Nov. 15 letter from the House Science Committee to Jackson expressing concern about the account and suggesting it may violate the Federal Records Act and other laws and demanding that the EPA turn over the Richard Windsor emails.

"The use of these emails could seriously impair records collection, preservation and access, therefore compromising transparency and oversight," the House letter to Jackson said.

But the EPA says such accounts are not secret, unusual or illegal. In a statement, the agency said that for at least a decade, EPA administrators "have been assigned two official, government-issued email accounts: a public account and an internal account." The agency said the accounts were needed because the public account is overrun with correspondence, 1.5 million messages in fiscal year 2012 alone. "The internal email account is necessary for effective management and communication between the administrator and agency colleagues," the EPA said.

Both accounts are subject to federal laws, including the Freedom of Information Act.

The EPA's defense of the two-account email system did not satisfy concerns raised by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Anne L. Weismann, the group's chief counsel, said the dual system could lead to confusion and exclusion of Jackson's correspondence when sent to the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA.

NARA "will be getting records of the administrator that include a collection of emails from a Richard Windsor — a name not identified with or identifiable as Administrator Jackson. Ten years from now someone reviewing those records may have no idea they are reading the emails of the administrator herself. NARA itself may have no idea. The mass confusion this practice creates spills over to Freedom of Information Act and discovery obligations," Weismann said.

Jackson's account had the unusual name Richard Windsor because she was asked to come up with a name that meant something to her. Jackson was born in East Windsor Township, N.J.

The Richard Windsor account was brought to light this month by Chris Horner, director of litigation at the conservative American Tradition Institute and a dogged climate change contrarian.

Horner has pursued Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation against some of the country's top climate scientists for more than a decade. Recently, Horner and his organization lost a lawsuit filed against the University of Virginia to acquire the emails of climate scientist Michael Mann, which it has appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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