Bush EPA Suppressed NM Waste Records To Sidestep FOIA

May 19, 2010

EPA Region 6 officials during the Bush administration deliberately stopped creating written records related to their oversight of a waste facility in order to thwart Freedom of Information Act requests from a citizens' group, according to an EPA Inspector General's report.

What's more, they defended the practice when called on it by the Inspector General's office. Such failure to keep records on important decisions was a violation of written EPA policy, even under the Bush administration.

Officials in Region 6, which includes southwestern states like New Mexico, also misused security classification to dodge the FOIA requests, the IG report said.

The environmental group Citizen Action New Mexico (CANM) had complained to the EPA IG in 2007 that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) had mismanaged the Sandia National Laboratory’s Mixed Waste Landfill (MWL) monitoring wells. NMED was responsible for overseeing the monitoring wells at the landfill. "Mixed waste" is a category that can include both radioactive and hazardous wastes. Monitoring wells help determine whether contamination from a landfill is leaching into groundwater.

The IG found that some Region 6 employees purposefully stopped keeping written records of phone calls and conversations related to the MWL. They also stamped documents "Confidential," a category reserved by policy for national security classification. The IG said these actions violated EPA's recordkeeping and public participation policies. Region 6 disputed the IG's findings and said the "Confidential" stamp was routinely used for non-security purposes throughout EPA.

The disagreement between the IG and Region 6 goes to EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe for resolution.