EPA Chief Uses White Duct Tape For Redaction

Charles Davis
February 25, 2008 — 1,418 views  
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This amazing sequence on Capitol Hill yesterday is a vivid demonstration of just how reflexive secrecy is, and how little we as citizens know about what goes on in our names...

The head of the EPA stood firm Thursday against a chorus of congressional criticism over his refusal to allow California and more than a dozen other states to impose greenhouse gas reductions on cars and trucks.

"I am bound by the criteria in the Clean Air Act, not people's opinions," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson testified to the Senate's environmental panel. It was his first congressional appearance since issuing the controversial waiver denial last month.

"The Clean Air Act does not require me to rubberstamp waiver decisions," Johnson said. "It was my conclusion that California didn't meet the criteria, or at least all of the criteria."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the committee chair, led committee Democrats in assailing Johnson's conclusion.

"You're going against your own agency's mission and you're fulfilling the mission of some special interests," she chided him.

Who's right? We don't know, because the EPA isn't telling, even though several staffers have been quoted in news stories saying that they all concluded that California met every criteria for a waiver.

We don't know because the EPA is using duct tape on its records...

Here is Boxer's take:

Colleagues, this is the tape, this is the tape that was put over — finally the administration had a way to use duct tape. This administration, this is what they did to us. They put this white tape over the documents and staff had to stand here. It’s just unbelievable. […]

I mean what a waste of our time. This isn’t national security. This isn’t classified information, colleagues. This is information the people deserve to have. And this is not the way we should run the greatest government in the world. It does not befit us. So that’s why I’m worked up about it and think we have been treated in a very shabby way.

Yesterday, Boxer released excerpts from an October presentation, revealing that Johnson had ignored the advice of EPA staff who were in favor of granting California the waiver. The excerpts came out after Boxer’s staff removed the duct tape from the documents and transcribed handwritten notes, under the supervision of EPA staffers.

Charles Davis


Charles N. Davis is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, headquartered at the School. Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information and the University of Missouri-Columbia Provost's Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching, as well as the Faculty-Alumni Award.