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The Environmental Protection Agency has been working, for some time, to craft regulations on coal plants that would dramatically limit both their carbon emissions and their capacity to provide an energy source – electricity – to the majority of Americans in an affordable way.
As Rep. Lamar Smith found out this week, after obtaining a series of emails from EPA policy director Michael Goo’s personal email account, the EPA was not forming these “clean air” policies in a vacuum. According to records, Goo used his personal email address to collaborate on environmental policy with the leader of environmental mega-group Sierra Club International, John Coequyt (also a registered Federal lobbyist), as he formulated greenhouse gas regulations.
According to the Free Beacon, Goo was charged with writing the New Source Performance Standards, or NSPS, that the EPA expected to use to curb carbon emissions from coal plants. According to Rep. Smith, who has been conducting a thorough investigation into the EPA’s communications with anti-coal activists and other environmentalists, such communication is not only inappropriate – as it gives those with a vested interest in the policy the opportunity to craft and shape it – but it’s possibly illegal.
Goo’s use of a personal email address could violate federal law, according to Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), who has investigated EPA officials’ use of personal email addresses in his capacity as the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
“For two years, his communications with the Sierra Club and other outside groups were hidden from congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests—potentially violating the Federal Records Act,” Smith said in a May statement.
Smith obtained the emails last month, but they were not publicly released until Monday. Chris Horner, a senior legal fellow at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them at the website Watts Up With That.
“These records prove how EPA gave anti-coal activists an opportunity to review, comment, and shape the strategy EPA would pursue to block development of more coal plants and shutter existing plants,” he wrote.
Horner said Goo’s use of a private email address for official business was “illegal.” Goo did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
This is certainly far from the Sierra Club’s first entanglement with the EPA. In 2012, they happily snapped up former EPA administrator Al Armendariz, after he was let go from the EPA over comments he made likening his approach to the coal industry to that of invading Roman soldiers, crucifying Turkish civilians in order to drive home his message.
It seems that at least some of what Coequyt and Goo shared was sensitive. In one instance, Coequyt actually notes that a report he’s sending Goo should be kept far from the public eye, and suggests that Goo change even his private email address in the event his “new job” with the EPA subjects him to closer scrutiny.
In that instance, Coequyt, whose organization, Sierra Club, has a “death count” for coal plants on its website, was trying to persuade Goo to accept the argument that there should be no exclusion, carved out in the law, that allows coal plants to escape regulation if it’s not technologically feasible for them to meet the EPA’s standards. From the Sierra Club’s perspective, allowing coal plants the opportunity to extend their compliance with Federal regulations until technology is available that makes cutting emissions feasible, defeats their stated purpose: to shut down coal plants and other “top” carbon emitters. The Sierra Club proudly boasts, even, that they’ve shut down over 150 new, more efficient plants.
Coequyt even went so far as to question the long-term viability of the EPA’s own technological solution to carbon emissions, the “Carbon Capture and Sequestration” (CCS) technology, makes it possible for coal plants to continue to produce the same amount of electricity, but drastically reduce their CO2 output by trapping byproduct C02 in underground pockets rather than releasing the carbon dioxide into the air. According to the Free Beacon, he “scoffed” at the idea. That’s putting it mildly.
The EPA is obviously charged with creating environmental policy for the country, but the people it affects the most – especially in industries targeted by environmentalists with whom the EPA exhibits a cozy relationship – are seemingly not included in policy creation, which makes the policies not only difficult to administer, but difficult to implement.
Already, 12 states are considering fighting back against the EPA’s carbon and coal regulations, claiming that the EPA failed to take states’ economic health into consideration as it formulating policy (Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Texas are also challenging the EPA, but on other regulatory incursions). Along with groups like Energy & Environment Legal Institute, these states claim that the collaboration between the EPA and Sierra Club (among others) is cause to question, if not dispose of, the regulations completely and start from scratch. Their argument has merit.
This is not the last of the EPA FOIA requests, either, much more may come to light before the investigation is through.