EPA employees' use of their own private email accounts to conduct government business was rampant among top-level officials, according to according to a new report Thursday from Senate Republicans that accused the agency's own internal watchdog of botching an investigation.
Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said their findings call into question the work of the EPA's inspector general, who in September issued a report clearing the EPA of wrongdoing in the email scandal.
But the GOP, in a new memo, said it has learned of at least 17 current and former EPA employees, including top leadership, who used their private email accounts, seemingly violating the spirit if not the actual wording of sunshine rules.
In fact, the Republicans said one of those officials, EPA Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, lied to the inspector general when he denied he used his private email for agency business.
Overall, Republicans took issue with three different IG investigations, and also accused the watchdog of breaking protocol in refusing to brief the GOP on an investigation before releasing the findings.
Republicans said those instances hint at "a lack of transparency and potential bias" on the part of the watchdog.
"EPW Republicans believe it is time for Congress to have more scrutiny over what is going on in the IG's office at EPA," the GOP said in its memo.
The EPA's office of inspector general said its work speaks for itself.
"All the statements included in EPA OIG reports are based on ample evidence and are subject to a rigorous verification process," said Jeffrey Lagda, a spokesman for the inspector general.
An email seeking comment from Mr. Blumenfeld, the administrator the Republicans accused of lying to investigators, went unanswered.
Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who helped expose the email scandal, said the inspector general's investigation was flawed because auditors just interviewed the accused wrongdoers, and never gathered other evidence, before clearing employees of wrongdoing.
"Only willful blindness could lead to such absurd conclusions," Mr. Horner said.
Mr Horner said the private emails matter because the ones he has been able to obtain show that top EPA officials were "far too close for comfort" with special interest groups who are pushing for specific federal policies.
Mr. Horner two years ago exposed former EPA chief Lisa Jackson's use of an alternate official email under the alias Richard Windsor, which set off a series of questions about EPA email practices.
One regional administrator, James Martin, had said he had only used his private email once for a scheduling matter, but emails came to light showing other contacts with interest groups that had business with the EPA. Mr. Martin resigned in the middle of being investigated, though the EPA said it was for reasons other than the email scandal.
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