EPA release reveals its bias

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press


While we like to give people and bureaucrats the benefit of the doubt, we understand why farmers, ranchers and others in the natural resources community have come to suspect the Environmental Protection Agency is in cahoots with environmental activists and organizations.

We suspect the eco-warriors within the EPA are more than happy to aid those who they believe are doing the Lord's work.

So we were happy when some of the agency's actions that have raised the biggest concerns got a public airing last week during a confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to become EPA's next administrator.

The hearing was held shortly after it came to light that in response to a freedom of information request by environmental groups concerning confined animal feeding operations, the EPA released exempted personal information about the CAFO owners.

The agency has since redacted personal information from the data. It has asked Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and Pew Charitable Trusts to return the original data in exchange for the redacted versions.

Once released, the EPA has no authority to demand that data be returned or compel the recipients to destroy data sets containing exempted information. From the perspective of their cause, the environmental groups would be foolish to voluntarily comply with such a request.

McCarthy promised Congress that the agency will stop releasing exempted private information about feedlots and other operations.

That's a relief. But whether a regrettable mistake as the agency contends, or the intended result as critics suggest, the release of producers' names and addresses can't be undone.

It's not the first time critics have suggested the agency has worked hand-in-glove with environmentalists.

The EPA's own Office of the Inspector General is investigating whether agency administrators used private email and instant messaging accounts to communicate with environmental groups on policy initiatives and avoid disclosure under public records laws.

Voicing concerns of agency critics, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., says that the agency is also quick to settle lawsuits filed by environmental groups. He contends a coordinated "sue and settle" scheme allows the EPA to subvert the public rulemaking procedure and adopt policies favored by environmentalists.

In our more nave moments, we like to imagine a federal government that administers and regulates without regard to the agendas of special interests. But in the real world, where White House spoilsmen pick the leadership of executive branch departments, politics and ideology always creep in.

That should not preclude divergent views from receiving a fair hearing and reasoned consideration. Nor should it welcome active collusion to subvert transparency.

Sooner or later, any government that regards some citizens more equal than others, one cause more virtuous, one point of view more legitimate, falls victim to the corrective force of the ballot box.

In the meantime, skeptical questioning from congressional oversight committees will have to do.

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