Judge Condemns the EPA but Leaves It Unpunished

The judge condemns the EPA for mistreating conservatives, but what will stop them from doing so again?

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The EPA has been egregiously violating the law regarding Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests by “slow walking” requests from conservative groups. One such group, the Landmark Legal Foundation, sued the EPA.

The verdict is in. The judge has declared Landmark to be in the right and the EPA to be in the wrong. As the Washington Times reports, “Judge rules EPA lied about transparency, tells agency to halt discrimination against conservatives.”

A federal judge warned the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday not to discriminate against conservative groups in how it responds to open-records requests, issuing a legal spanking.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth concluded the agency may have lied to the court and showed “apathy and carelessness” in carrying out the law, though the judge was unable to determine if documents were intentionally destroyed. 

Judge Lamberth described the “absurdity” of the way the EPA handled a Freedom of Information Act request from the Landmark Legal Foundation and then the court case stemming from it — including late last week admitting it lied to the court about how it went about searching for documents.

In a scorching 25-page opinion, the judge accused the agency of “insulting” him by first claiming it had done a full search for records, then years later retracting that claim without any explanation.

“The recurrent instances of disregard that EPA employees display for FOIA obligations should not be tolerated by the agency,” the judge said in a 25-page ruling. “This court would implore the executive branch to take greater responsibility in ensuring that all EPA FOIA requests — regardless of the political affiliation of the requester — are treated with equal respect and conscientiousness.”

The ruling could be seen as a rebuke to President Obama, who took office vowing to run the most transparent administration in history, but who has faced increasing challenges over how he’s lived up to that claim. The EPA in particular has been in a years-long battle with conservative groups who argue the agency has ignored them while playing favorites with liberal groups.

Does that sound like a conservative victory to you? If so, you are hearing it wrong. Nothing was done to the EPA. They have been caught and yet they got away with everything.

[See also, “Liberals Defend Secret Science for EPA.”]

The judge said since Landmark couldn’t prove it was intentional bad faith, the group wasn’t entitled to “spoliation sanctions.” Neither could be find a reason to impose criminal sanctions against the agency.

Judge Lamberth also refused to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the EPA’s open-records requests, saying that was an “extreme and legally uncertain” alternative. But his frustration with the situation showed through repeatedly.

“The court is left wondering whether EPA has learned from its mistakes, or if it will merely continue to address FOIA requests in the clumsy manner that has seemingly become its custom,” the judge wrote. “Given the offensively unapologetic nature of EPA’s recent withdrawal notice … the court is not optimistic that the agency has learned anything.”

Learned from its mistakes? The agency just learned that it can get away with obstructing conservatives while giving Leftist groups whatever information they think they need to lobby for more environmental regulations. They learned that they will never be held accountable and are beyond any real scrutiny from the judicial branch of the United States government.

This decision is a disaster, not a victory.