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 VitterLobbying World Senate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views Collins votes against Trump judicial pick MORE (R-La.), Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThis week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran MORE (R-Okla.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress 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: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Overnight Energy: Trump order to trim science panels sparks outrage | Greens ask watchdog to investigate Interior's records policies | EPA to allow use of pesticide harmful to bees MORE, advanced out of committee on a party line vote on Thursday, but Democrats worry about a Republican filibuster on the Senate floor.