The EPA’s Own Email ProblemPosted: August 27, 2015
Kimberley A. Strassel writes: When a government official (think Hillary Clinton) uses a private email account for government work (think Hillary Clinton) and then doesn’t turn over records (think Hillary Clinton), the public has to wonder why. For an example of that why, consider Thursday’s federal-court subpoena of Phillip North.
“Government workers don’t use private email because it is ‘convenient.’ They use private email to engage in practices that may be unsavory, or embarrassing, or even illegal.”
The North story hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but it is a useful tale for clarifying exactly why we have federal records and sunshine laws. You see, government workers don’t use private email because it is “convenient.” They use private email to engage in practices that may be unsavory, or embarrassing, or even illegal. Let’s be clear about that.
“Records show that EPA officials, including Mr. North, had no intention of letting the process get that far. They set about to ‘pre-emptively’ veto the mine, before Pebble could even file for permits.”
Mr. North was, until a few years ago, a biologist at the Environmental Protection Agency, based in Alaska. Around 2005 he became enmeshed in reviewing the Pebble Partnership’s proposal to develop a mine there. Mr. North has openly admitted that he was opposed to this idea early on, and he is entitled to his opinion. Still, as a government employee his first duty is to follow the law.
“But for the EPA to so flagrantly insert itself into the process, it needed cause. This is where Mr. North and his private email come in.”
In the normal course of law, Pebble would file for permits and the Army Corps of Engineers would get the first say over approval. The EPA has a secondary role. But records show that EPA officials, including Mr. North, had no intention of letting the process get that far. They set about to “pre-emptively” veto the mine, before Pebble could even file for permits. But for the EPA to so flagrantly insert itself into the process, it needed cause. This is where Mr. North and his private email come in.
The biologist was deeply involved in most of the work on Pebble, and would later brag about his role in killing the project. He had briefed high-level officials; drafted an early “options paper” laying out the veto strategy; and taken a star role in the “science” the EPA would use to justify the 2014 veto. But perhaps Mr. North’s biggest contribution was as serving as a liaison to (and coordinating with) anti-mine activists.
The EPA would ultimately claim that it acted “in response to petitions” filed against the mine in 2010 by Native American tribes. But those petitions didn’t spring from nowhere. According to documents Pebble has given a federal court, Mr. North was…(read more)
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