The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general will review claims that the EPA refuses to waive public records fees for conservative groups while granting the waivers for environmental organizations.
Acting Administrator Robert Perciasepe asked the agency’s inspector general to review claims after GOP lawmaker accusations of a double standard.
The charges came up Thursday during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, where Republicans compared the EPA's actions to the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.
Perciasepe told lawmakers he’s asking the inspector general to help conduct a “programmatic audit” of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request fee decisions.
The action follows a May 14 report by the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) that claims the EPA waives the fees for major environmental groups more than 90 percent of the time, while often denying fee waivers for CEI, Judicial Watch and other groups.
Perciasepe said it is not EPA’s policy “in any way, shape or form” to treat people differently when they request waiver of fees associated with FOIA requests. He said he wanted to get an “unbiased” look at the topic and the agency’s review criteria.
“I am going to get an independent look at all that information so I can get a determination,” Perciasepe said.
He added that even if fees are not formally waived, it is common that they are not charged anyway as the FOIA process has increasingly moved into an online system.
“Even when fees are not waived under the process that currently is there, frequently there are no fees involved anyway because of the nature of the way we do it these days, electronically,” Perciasepe said.
Republicans compared the CEI report to recent revelations that IRS officials improperly targeted Tea Party groups and pressed for unnecessary information when those groups sought tax-exempt status.
“When we take this in the context of what has just been exposed at the IRS ... it seems at the EPA, the same thing is happening,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
“It certainly appears there is a bias,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).