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EPA Said to Have Suppressed, Misclassified Records

Officials of the Environmental Protection Agency intentionally stopped keeping records concerning potentially hazardous landfills in New Mexico in order to circumvent the disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. They also marked unclassified records as “confidential” in order to restrict their dissemination, a report (pdf) from the EPA Inspector General found.

One EPA official told the IG that “her section discontinued record keeping in favor of undocumented phone calls and conversations … to prevent the production of documents…. [She] informed us that her section had discontinued record keeping… because of … requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act” that had been filed by Citizens Action New Mexico, a public interest group investigating potential contamination of Albuquerque’s groundwater.

The Inspector General report said that failure to document agency activities is a violation of EPA policy and federal law, which require the preparation and preservation of “adequate and proper” records of agency functions, decisions and transactions.

Another EPA official “withheld [a document] from the public by marking it Confidential, a security classification category” even though it “contained no classified information.” Officials said they only meant to indicate that the document was a deliberative draft, not that it was classified. But the IG said that too is a violation of agency policy, which prohibits the use of classification markings on unclassified records.

The Inspector General said that because of defective record keeping, it was unable to determine whether EPA oversight of the New Mexico landfills was actually satisfactory or not.

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