CASPER, Wyo. — Another U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official is under fire for alleged use of a personal email account, but the agency has come to his defense.
Two Republican lawmakers this week released a letter accusing James Martin, administrator of the EPA region that includes Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states, of using a private email account to interact with an environmental group — a breach of EPA rules.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., this week sent a letter to the agency demanding emails be released from an Apple me.com address registered to Martin. According to the lawmakers, there is evidence Martin used the private account to communicate with a representative of the Environmental Defense Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group.
Issa and Vitter wrote that they're concerned EPA officials may be using personal email accounts to circumvent the Public Records Act, which allows public access to the EPA's and other federal agencies' email correspondences and other documents.
The two point to one email sent by Martin to the Environmental Defense Fund, which set an official meeting. The letter also vaguely references other emails conducting official business. The EPA has since said one email doesn't signal a bigger problem.
"The regional administrator does not use his personal email account to conduct official business," the agency said in a statement. "That Mr. Martin responded to one email sent to his personal email account to confirm a meeting that appears on his official government calendar does not alter that fact."
This isn't the first time a high-ranking EPA official's use of personal emails has come under fire. The accusations against Martin mirror charges first made last year against outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who stood accused of conducting official business from a personal email account under the alias Richard Windsor. The agency released the majority of Jackson's personal emails earlier this month.
"The American people have to be wondering where this will stop," Vitter said in a prepared statement. "The EPA owes us all some answers about their absolute disregard for transparency."
Becca Glover Watkins, spokeswoman for the House Government Oversight Committee, said evidence exists that members of other departments in the Obama administration, including the Department of Energy, have engaged in the use of personal email accounts.
"It seems to be a problem with the administration," she said. "The administration often is getting caught fixing this retroactively instead of catching it and fixing it going forward."
Members of Wyoming's all-Republican congressional delegation chimed in to criticize the EPA and the Obama administration.
"This is just another example of this administration’s say-one-thing, do-another policy when it comes to transparency," Sen. John Barrasso said in a prepared statement. "The President’s EPA in particular has a track record of thinking the rules don’t apply to them."
Rep. Cynthia Lummis said she doesn't consider it a coincidence that Martin stands accused of the same offense as Jackson.
"What, if anything, are they trying to keep from the American people?" she said in a prepared statement. "That is the question that demands an answer."
Each of the two legislators who authored the letter to Martin participates in congressional oversight of the EPA. Vitter is the top Republican on the Senate Environment Committee and has said that hydraulic fracturing, an oil and gas production technique in which producers pump water, chemicals and sand into a well to break the earth and free trapped resources, is among his top priorities.
Issa chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which will continue to work with Vitter's committee to investigate officials across all agencies to make sure they're following the rules for correspondence.
The agency said in a statement this week that Martin has searched his personal email account from the phrase "Environmental Defense Fund" and will produce any emails containing the phrase. Watkins said the committee's request — for all emails since April 2010 relating to Martin's official work — has yet to be satisfied.