GOP leaders in House take another shot at EPA transparency

Barry Cassell | Dec 03, 2012

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Republican leaders of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a Nov 30 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to follow up on prior requests that the agency make certain information relating to rulemaking activities publicly available.

In an effort to improve transparency for taxpayers, committee leaders previously requested EPA post rulemaking petitions and notices of intent to sue to the agency's website, but they said the agency has yet to take action.

When President Obama took office he pledged transparency would be a hallmark of his administration, declaring: “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” Jackson echoed this commitment to transparency during her confirmation hearing and in an April 2009 memo to EPA employees.

In the Nov. 30 letter, committee members urged Jackson to follow through on this transparency pledge by improving public access to information. “Providing the public with timely access to information about the rulemaking petitions and notices of intent to sue received by the Office of the Administrator and/or Office of General Counsel would significantly increase the transparency of EPA’s regulatory process,” they wrote.

Committee leaders previously wrote to Jackson on March 30 to request the information be made public. This letter followed Jackson’s testimony at a committee hearing on Feb. 28 in which she committed to posting such information on the agency’s website.

Despite this commitment to transparency, the committee received a response from EPA’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, Arvin Ganesan, indicating the agency was unable to accommodate the request because EPA does not have centralized processes for managing all notices of intent to sue and rulemaking petitions submitted to EPA,” said the committee in a Nov. 30 statement about the letter sent to Jackson. “However, at a later committee hearing on June 29, 2012, EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy testified that notices of intent to sue and certain rulemaking petitions are currently tracked by EPA’s General Counsel.”

The letter to Jackson said: “Following up on the agency’s response and hearing testimony, we ask that EPA make available (i) a list of all petitions for rulemaking received by the Office of the Administrator and/or by the Office of General Counsel; and (ii) a list of all notices of intent to sue received by the Office of the Administrator and/or by the Office of General Counsel. As stated in our prior request, we ask that those petitions, notices, and requests for agency action, including copies of the documents themselves, be made available in a single place on the agency’s website. To ensure the usefulness of the information, we also ask that you commit to updating the list and posting any new requests for agency action on a timely basis going forward.”

Signing the letter was full committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

While the letter to Jackson wasn't specific to any one EPA enforcement program, this committee, under GOP leadership, has been hammering the agency for months about any number of matters related to coal-fired power, like new particulate and greenhouse gas rulemakings. The GOP has also criticized EPA for essentially making rules for coal-fired power plants through settlements of lawsuits with environmental groups. Such lawsuits usually begin with a mandatory notice of intent to sue, evolving into a settlement either before or after any lawsuit is filed.


Barry Cassell is chief of coal generation at Generation Hub, an Energy Central unit

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