Facts Don’t Back Up Conservative Claims Of Bias At the EPA

From a dozen attorneys general to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Republicans have amplified the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s claim the Environmental Protection Agency gave preference to liberal groups in granting waivers. The number from CEI, a Koch-funded venture, that quickly picked up steam among conservative sites was a claim the EPA rejected 70–90 percent of FOIA fee waiver requests from conservative groups, while it accepted 90 percent from liberal groups.

That divide would indeed be big, if those happened to be the correct numbers. When Politico expanded its examination to a larger number of groups, it found no major difference:

POLITICO found a much more modest disparity after examining records of nearly 700 EPA decisions over 15 months: Liberal requesters received fee waivers 52 percent of the time, compared with a 39 percent rate for conservatives.

And that 13 percentage point gap may still not be evidence of bias. Multiple factors complicate a direct comparison between the liberals’ and conservatives’ results.

For starters, liberal groups made almost eight times as many waiver requests as conservatives. If EPA had approved just four more of the conservatives’ 31 requests, their success rates would have been the same.

The most common reason the EPA cited for denied requests was that they did not have any intent to convey information for “public interest,” a core point for the EPA.

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Meanwhile, CEI’s study, attempting to link the EPA and the IRS, has a number of flaws: For instance, it compared a larger sampling of environmental groups compared to a smaller number of conservatives, and the EPA’s own numbers also indicate it denied far fewer waivers than CEI claims.

Even so, that has not stopped attorneys general from filing a lawsuit against the EPA based on CEI’s flawed allegations.