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EPA’s use of private e-mail seen as effort to evade law

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency’s use of personal e-mail accounts may have been aimed at skirting public disclosure requirements, a federal judge says.

US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled Wednesday that a public interest law firm, the Landmark Legal Foundation, can question and obtain records from EPA officials as part of the firm’s Freedom of Information lawsuit against the federal agency. The judge granted Landmark the right to seek the information to determine whether top EPA officials used personal e-mail accounts to conduct official business — and whether the agency initially excluded those accounts from Landmark’s Freedom of Information request.

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‘‘The possibility that unsearched personal e-mail accounts may have been used for official business raises the possibility that leaders in the EPA may have purposefully attempted to skirt disclosure under the FOIA,’’ wrote Lamberth.

In the lawsuit last year, the foundation asked for any records that indicated the EPA was delaying the announcement of new environmental regulations until after last year’s presidential election.

In June, the Associated Press reported that some top Obama administration officials were using secret government accounts to conduct official business. Senator John McCain of Arizona has said the practice undermines congressional oversight and complicates access to records under FOIA.

Last year, some EPA critics accused former administrator Lisa Jackson of using an e-mail account under the pseudonym “Richard Windsor” to sidestep disclosure rules.

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