GOP Senators probe lost EPA emails

A group of Republican senators believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broke the law when it lost emails that lawmakers are seeking in an investigation, and they’re asking the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to help their inquiry.

The six senators, led by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), sent a letter to United States Archivist David Ferriero Thursday asking him for details about the EPA’s claim that employee Phillip North’s hard drive crashed in 2010, so it cannot fully cooperate with a House investigation.

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The revelation last month from EPA chief Gina McCarthy came weeks after the IRS told Congress that Lois Lerner’s hard drive crashed, so it could not recover some emails requested in an investigation into allegations that Lerner and other IRS officials unfairly targeted conservative groups for scrutiny.

The NARA enforces the Federal Records Act, which requires that certain documents be preserved by federal agencies. In June, Ferriero told the Oversight Committee that the IRS broke the records law by not properly preserving Lerner’s emails.

“It seems your statement that the IRS ‘did not follow the law’ equally applies to the EPA’s failure to properly preserve Mr. North’s emails,” the senators wrote.

Republicans believe that North, an ecologist who worked for the EPA in Alaska, decided in 2009 to block a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska, to operate. That was long before the EPA formally made the decision to initiate the process to block the mine earlier this year, the committee said.

North retired last year, and has been in New Zealand for months, unable to give an interview to congressional investigators.

The EPA told the committee that it knew about the lost emails earlier this year. But it did not tell the NARA until the day before the hearing in June.

In their Thursday letter, the senators, all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked Ferriero whether the EPA’s communication to the NARA follows the law, which requires prompt notification if records are lost.

The senators also asked Ferriero how his agency defines violations of the records law, as well as other questions about how federal agencies preserve emails.

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