A conservative group is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for access to Gina McCarthy’s text message and training records.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute said its lawsuit was reason to delay the confirmation vote for McCarthy, which could come as early as Tuesday. President Obama nominated her for EPA administrator four months ago.
“Ultimately, we will learn if EPA’s problems with non-official email accounts, and accounts not identifying the account holder, extend to their use of private accounts for texting or even destroying this alternative to email, as it seems. Resolving the questions in today’s suit, and about her use of a personal account, should be necessary conditions to moving forward on her nomination,” Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the CEI, said in a Monday statement.
The group also said it wants access to phone records for both McCarthy’s personal and agency-issued phones to see if she text-messaged, rather than emailed, on days she appeared before Congress.
The CEI said it had requested that information from the EPA on 18 specific dates, but that the agency said there were no records of such text messages.
“If these bills show that any text messages were in fact sent or received on the EPA device on any of the 18 dates in question, that means EPA is either not turning over records it has been ordered by courts to produce or is destroying those records in violation of the law,” Horner said.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, stems from a larger discussion about the EPA’s record-keeping practices.
Republicans, conservative groups and watchdog organizations have been troubled by the discovery that some agency officials, including former EPA chief Lisa Jackson, used separate internal accounts.
They have warned of foul play at the agency, suggesting the accounts might be used to flout public records laws. They worry correspondence from those email addresses wouldn’t turn up in Freedom of Information Act or congressional oversight requests.
The EPA has defended the email practice, saying it dates back to former President George W. Bush’s administration. It says the agency hands over all documentation from those internal accounts in records requests.
The CEI lawsuit comes after a key Senate Republican dropped a threat to filibuster McCarthy’s nomination, paving the path for a confirmation vote.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he wouldn’t filibuster McCarthy's nomination after the EPA offered an olive branch on a handful of transparency issues.
The agency agreed last week to revamp its employee training for maintaining public records in a concession to Vitter, in turn helping move along McCarthy’s stalled nomination.
The panel’s eight GOP members were concerned about the use of internal email accounts at the EPA after learning Jackson used the alias “Richard Windsor” to communicate with federal officials and others.