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Agency bias reinforces the case for limiting government

SPECIAL TO SEGAZINE

By Benita M. Dodd

This Foundation’s weekly commentaries usually focus on Georgia-specific issues, but May has been a month for wake-up calls from Washington to all liberty-minded Americans. Government employees testified they were punished for speaking out about the U.S. Embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya. The Internal Revenue Service admitted unfairly targeting conservative groups. The FBI is investigating the Justice Department’s unorthodox seizure of Associated Press phone records.

Latest out of the gate, and perhaps the least surprising of all, is that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been giving preferential treatment to liberal and green organizations. Research by the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reveals the EPA happily waived fees for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from liberal organizations but denied similar fee waivers to pro-industry, free-market and government watchdog groups.

Government agencies are supposed to waive fees for groups disseminating information for public benefit. The FOIA fees paid vary based on how many documents are requested, what medium they are requested in and how much government research is involved. Waivers are considered on a case-by-case basis, according to the EPA.

Between January 2012 and the spring of 2013, the EPA granted fee waivers for 75 of 83 FOIA requests sent by liberal environmental groups, or 92 percent of the time. At the same time, records show, the EPA rejected or ignored similar requests from conservative or free-market groups 21 out of 26 times – an 81 percent rejection rate. Among them were the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Institute for Energy Research and Judicial Watch.

The “green” groups include EPA “frenemies” that routinely sue the agency, which is then “forced” to settle the case and “forced” in a court order to promulgate the tougher regulatory action the group sought. The government – the taxpayer – then also pays the group’s attorneys’ fees.

CEI Fellow Chris Horner (who was in Atlanta in 2010 to talk about climate change policy at a Foundation Leadership Breakfast), says the actions reveal “a clear pattern of favoritism for allied groups.” Horner is counsel for the American Tradition Institute, which also exposed former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of a false-identity e-mail account, apparently to hide certain sensitive correspondence.

The American Tradition Institute has highlighted the “close relationship” between the EPA and the Sierra Club and American Lung Association (ALA). The ALA “lobbies and litigates for greater authority for EPA, runs billboard campaigns against politicians who challenge EPA, and has received $20,405,655 from EPA in the last 10 years for its programs,” ATI noted. The Sierra Club employs a similar model, ATI said in a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking an end to EPA’s eight-month stonewall of two FOIA requests related to “EPA’s close working relationship with [the] two pressure groups with which EPA has uncomfortably close ties, at great taxpayer expense.” There are more.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, too, experienced the EPA’s bias two years ago. It’s no easy task to follow up with a valid scientific and economic case opposing tougher environmental regulations immediately after an emotional plea by a Native American boy to stop power plants’ mercury from poisoning his water and the eagles. The EPA panel accepted the boy’s exaggeration wordlessly but, in at least three instances, sought footnotes from the Foundation’s comments opposing the proposed Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) regulations for utilities.

Whether the IRS or EPA actions are ordered from higher up or not, it’s clear that they are more philosophically motivated than politically motivated. They are bureaucratically entrenched. Changing the agency leadership or political party in power does not change the self-preservation culture of public employees in government agencies. This is what promotes the mission creep that adds to the financial and regulatory burden on taxpayers and businesses while ensuring that the expanding pool of government workers remains taxpayer-funded.

Public policy groups such as the Georgia Public Policy Foundation work on behalf of voters and taxpayers to promote the principles of the U.S. Constitution, of limited government, free-market approaches and individual accountability. As the IRS scandal and EPA bias reveal, such policies make us natural enemies of an environment where unions and employee associations promote collective bargaining “agreements” and government overreach. These outrages, however, are no deterrent. In fact, they reinforce our commitment to champion sound public policies that put citizens and common sense in charge.

(Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.)

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