GOP lawmakers liken EPA info tactics to IRS targeting of Tea Party

Congressional Republicans have accused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of giving unfair preference to environmental groups when it comes to information requests.

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The lawmakers compared the agency's behavior to the recent revelation that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gave additional scrutiny to Tea Party organizations.

In a letter to Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe on Friday, four Republicans accused the agency of routinely waiving fees for environmental groups who seek documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) but making conservative think tanks and state and local governments pay full price.

"This disparate treatment is unacceptable, especially in light of the recent controversy over abusive tactics at the Internal Revenue Service, which singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny," the legislators wrote.

Sens. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterSenate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views Collins votes against Trump judicial pick Progressive group targets Susan Collins over Trump judicial pick MORE (R-La.), Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief Iran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton MORE (R-Okla.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump reaches deal to lift steel, aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada Top GOP senator blocking Trump's pick for Turkey ambassador MORE (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) signed on to the letter.

The legislators pointed to data that show that 92 percent of all fee waivers granted by the EPA were to requests from environmental groups. 

"The startling disparity in treatment strongly suggests EPA's actions are possibly part of a broader effort to collude with groups that share the agency's political agenda and discriminate against states and conservative organizations," they alleged. "This is a clear abuse of discretion."

They want the agency to submit to Congress information on fee waivers going back to 2009 and seek to question the official in charge of the FOIA office.

The agency is ordering a review of its policies to ensure fairness.

Like other parts of the federal government, the EPA sometimes charges fees for research hours and photocopying of documents requested by a FOIA.

The agency judges requests for waived fees based on six factors, and a requester must prove that the information is in the public interest and not primarily commercially motivated.

"EPA makes FOIA waiver determinations based on legal requirements that are consistently applied to all fee waiver requests, not on the identity of the reporter," EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said in an email. "EPA has requested the agency’s independent Inspector General to review these criteria to ensure EPA’s FOIA process remains open, fair and transparent."

The Republicans' allegations are the latest in a string of criticisms against the agency, a pattern that some Democrats claim is obstructionist and designed to prevent the agency from carrying out its duties.

President Obama's nominee to lead the EPA, Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Senate Dems introduce Green New Deal alternative | Six Republicans named to House climate panel | Wheeler confirmed to lead EPA Overnight Energy: Joshua Tree National Park lost M in fees due to shutdown | Dem senator, AGs back case against oil giants | Trump officials secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada Overnight Energy: Ethics panel clears Grijalva over settlement with staffer | DC aims to run on 100 percent clean energy by 2032 | Judges skeptical of challenge to Obama smog rule MORE, advanced out of committee on a party line vote on Thursday, but Democrats worry about a Republican filibuster on the Senate floor.