Six years later, we know that President Obama’s pledge to run the most transparent administration in history was merely a campaign promise, a White House talking point, and not a statement of management style. We’ve seen a series of highly public scandals—Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS, NSA, and now, the VA—where Oversight Committees have fought to pry information out of the Obama White House only to receive stacks of redacted documents.
Most recently, we’ve seen court-ordered information provided to nonprofit government watchdog groups in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that have made it very clear why the Administration wanted to keep specific contents hidden. Emails that revealed direct White House involvement in the Benghazi scandal are behind the creation of the new Select Committee. IRS documents show the Tea Party targeting wasn’t a couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati, as the Obama administration claimed—instead, now we know it was orchestrated out of DC. Briefing materials point out that the Obama administration has known about problems with VA hospital wait times since 2009.
FOIA requests must be the bane of the “most transparent administration in history.”
Upon his signing of the FOIA legislation in 1966, former President Johnson stated: “This legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: A democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the Nation permits. No one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.”
As shameful as each of these scandals are, they directly impact only a comparative handful of people. We grieve the loss of life, but unless you are a family member or friend of the four brave men killed in Benghazi or of the dozens of veterans who risked their lives for our country only to die unnecessarily due to bad policy at the VA hospitals, your life goes on without consequence.
However, there are other cases that haven’t yet reached “scandal” status (and they may never because it is unlikely that anyone will die) where the Administration doesn’t want the public to know the rationale behind the policy that is universally having a negative impact on all Americans. These stories point to the administrations’ use of bad science to achieve its goal of growing government and controlling people through the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Clean Air Act. Together the practices restrict access to public and private lands for farming, ranching, and energy development, and reduce the availability of affordable electricity—making essential food and power costs ever-increasing.
In New Mexico, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Forest Service are preventing cattle ranchers from accessing water to which two different court rulings have declared the ranchers’ have rights. According to a report in the Daily Caller: “New Mexico’s current conflict involves 23 acres along the Aqua Chiquita creek and natural springs, now fenced off for the benefit of the newly protected meadow jumping mouse. Cattle ranchers had naturally relied on access to this water since the area had been open to grazing permittees since 1957.”
Addressing the specific protections for the mouse, the report points out the “decades of scientific controversy over whether the meadow jumping mouse was a ‘valid subspecies’ or whether it really was vanishing.” It also cites current research from the University of New Mexico with recommendations that would lead to a re-evaluation of the listing.
The report states: “Yet scrutiny of EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] determinations and analysis of competing findings is foreclosed by sweetheart deals between environmental advocacy groups and the EPA in ‘sue and settle’ schemes.” It continues: “This collaboration between two friendly parties to co-opt the courts into bypassing constitutionally prescribed safeguards and protections denies local governments, harmed parties, and the public in general a seat at the table.”
While the Daily Caller piece doesn’t specifically reference the Information Quality Act (IQA), enacted by Congress in 2000, it is one of the safeguards and protections required for “influential scientific information” and/or “highly influential scientific assessments”—particularly if such scientific information may be used as the basis for regulatory action. The IQA requires “all federal bureaucrats to ‘prove up’ their claims and data so others in local government and land-use managers could rely on it to make wise and proper management decisions,” explains Dan Byfield, CEO of American Stewards of Liberty.
In a Ranch Magazine article titled “Verify the science,” Byfield showed how the IQA can be used to prevent environmental organizations from “manipulating our government and federal statutes to their benefit and the detriment of everyone else.” He worked successfully with eight counties in the Permian Basin to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered. He states: “We prevented the listing and saved those two million acres by taking a hard look at the science. What we discovered became the ‘smoking gun!’” Byfield continues: “what we found was anything but credible science. …and this is true with almost every proposed listing.”
Taking the IQA a step further, earlier this year the Institute for Trade Standards and Sustainable Development (ITSSD) filed FOIA requests regarding the science underpinning the EPA’s 2009 greenhouse gas endangerment findings—identifying six greenhouse gasses as posing a risk of endangerment to public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act. The requests were filed with the EPA and the U.S. government’s lead climate science agency: the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
An ITSSD press release states: “The objective of the FOIA requests has been to secure disclosure of government records substantiating each agency’s compliance with the provisions of the U.S. Information Quality Act.” ITSSD asserts that, based on its research, the required “peer review science process has likely been compromised on conflict of interest, independence/bias, peer review panel balance, and transparency grounds.” Additionally, the ITSSD press release claims that peer review comments regarding scientific uncertainties were ignored.
ITSSD believes that The EPA’s endangerment ruling—which has triggered costly and burdensome greenhouse gas emissions control regulations and proposed performance standards that would restrict new fossil fuel-based energy generation facilities—is based on bad science and is seeking records regarding the climate science-related peer review processes.
Requests for information are being stonewalled, in part, by denying the customary fee waiver requests generally allowed for nonprofit organizations engaged in public education. (ITSSD is a 501(c)(3) organization with the mission of educating the public about the legal and economic consequences of environmental health and safety rules premised on the post-modern concept of sustainable development.)
In a Politico story on “President Obama’s muddy transparency record,” Katherine Meyer, a Washington lawyer who’s been filing FOIA cases since 1978, is quoted as saying: “Obama is the sixth administration that’s been in office since I’ve been doing Freedom of Information Act work. … It’s kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six, this administration is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it. This administration is raising one barrier after another. … It’s gotten to the point where I’m stunned—I’m really stunned.”
With knowledge of the way the most transparent administration in history operates, one can reasonably conclude that ITSSD’s FOIA requests are being slow walked because it has hit upon an area of vulnerability that the administration would rather keep hidden. The requested documents would likely require a reexamination of the EPA’s greenhouse gas endangerment findings that would render them invalid. According to ITSSD CEO, Lawrence Kogan, “clearly, the administration is concerned that disclosure of the requested documents, which ITSSD will then analyze and disseminate to a broad public audience interested in learning more about how the federal government’s peer review science processes actually operate, will prompt the American public to demand a reexamination of the EPA’s greenhouse gas endangerment findings.”
The closer one looks, the more clear it becomes. The only thing transparent about the Obama administration is its motives for hiding the truth. If everything it is covering up was exposed, myriad policies, mandates, and regulations would have to be reversed and the American people would be relieved.
Laws like the IQA were put into place to protect the public from a president who thinks he can rule by decree—with a pen and phone—rather than on sound science.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.
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