Climate

House Science Committee Subpoenas EPA Head Gina McCarthy For Deleted Texts

CREDIT: AP Photo/Drew Angerer

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, head of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology issued a subpoena for Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy Wednesday, in an attempt to gain access to the administrator’s text messages and emails.

The Committee — which is chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who issued the subpoena — asked for McCarthy’s phone records after sending multiple similar requests to the EPA. According to Smith, McCarthy said that of the more than 5,000 text messages she sent during her time as EPA administrator, only one was related to official EPA business and the rest were deleted.

Smith wasn’t happy with this explanation.

“Of the almost 6,000 text messages sent by Administrator McCarthy over a period of several years, it is difficult to believe that only one was related to EPA business,” he said in a statement. “The single text message produced by EPA was received at the start of this year, within days of receiving a letter of inquiry from this Committee. The EPA’s pattern of withholding, concealing and possibly destroying records must come to an end.”

The text message that was turned over to the Science Committee was between McCarthy and League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski.

“Great job on the EPA comments on keystone,” Gene wrote. “I feel like the end is very near…”

In response, McCarthy said: “Gene — I received your text message earlier today but I do not use text messaging for work purposes. Please make sure in the future to use my email address.”

David Schnare, a former senior attorney at the EPA, served as a witness at a hearing on the issue Thursday. Schnare also served as the lead attorney in the suit that tried to gain access to climate scientist Michael Mann’s emails — a suit that ultimately failed.

Schnare said he thought that the the EPA’s culture of transparency had changed for the worse under the Obama administration, and that he had occasionally heard staff members saying things like “I got rid of all that” or “I’ve washed that machine clean.”

During the hearing, Schnare was called out by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) for calling himself a “skeptic” of climate change and for his role in the Mann emails case, which, since he may have been working for the federal government while involved in the case, raised questions about ethics rules.

“You have submitted legally deficient responses; you have misled a general council; you’ve witnessed wrongdoing and not reported it. Why is it that someone shouldn’t file a claim against you to have you disbarred and have your licence removed?” Edwards said to Schnare.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that EPA has been criticized for its lack of transparency. Last year, a group of science and journalism organizations spoke out against the EPA’s policy of limiting its scientific advisers from speaking to the media.

“The new policy undermines EPA’s efforts to increase transparency,” the groups said in a letter to the EPA. “It also contradicts the EPA’s new scientific integrity policy as well as the Science Advisory Board’s handbook. In addition, the new policy only reinforces any perception that the agency prioritizes message control over the ability of scientists who advise the agency to share their expertise with the public.”

Also last year, InsideClimate News published a story in July detailing the three months that reporters spent trying to get on-the-record interviews with EPA officials regarding air pollution in Texas’ oil and gas country. In August, the EPA did sit down with the Center for Environmental Integrity about oil and gas production, the story notes in an update.

Still, this also isn’t the first time that members of the House Science and Technology Committee have targeted the EPA. Earlier this month, Smith sponsored a “Secret Science” bill that would prohibit the agency from using science that include data that’s private or not easily reproduced. Smith has also attacked the EPA’s carbon rules, calling the agency’s latest proposed rule on existing power plants a “sweeping mandate” and accusing the agency of “bias.”

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), who’s also a member of the committee, sponsored the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, which would make it more difficult for scientists who have applied for EPA grants to join the Science Advisory Board, a group that reviews the science the EPA uses to come up with its regulations. In addition, 13 out of the 21 Republicans on the committee deny that human caused climate change is happening.