Ethics Watchdog: EPA Destroyed Water Quality Records, Deceived Archivist

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks / Public Domain

JakeThomas

The EPA reportedly destroyed records illegally and deceived the National Archives and Records Administration about it.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported on Friday that internal documents show the “Environmental Protection Agency illegally destroyed records, deceived the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) about that destruction, and falsely blamed the coronavirus pandemic to escape accountability.”

  • CREW reported that “18 boxes containing Kansas Water Quality Standards Rulemaking records from 1985-2000 were sitting on the sixth floor of an EPA building in preparation for transfer to NARA when a sprinkler head broke” in late 2019.
  • Attempts to dry the records were made, according to CREW, “but due to miscommunication between facilities and the Office of Water, did not immediately restore the records.” The watchdog wrote that “Three months later, the records were full of mold, but likely recoverable.”
  • The EPA Records Officer emailed NARA on March 4, 2020, requesting “the Emergency Destruction of Records citing that the records were a menace to the health and safety of EPA personnel after facilities management determined they were not salvageable.”
  • CREW noted that “Under federal law, NARA must evaluate and approve requests to destroy contaminated records”; however, EPA destroyed the records two days later without waiting for NARA’s response.

NARA responded on March 10, four business days after the initial request, with a set of questions to conduct a review of the records. Instead of disclosing that EPA had already destroyed documents without NARA’s permission, the EPA Records Officer sent NARA pictures of the damaged documents taken before the documents’ destruction along with answers to NARA’s questions.

  • Unaware that the documents had already been destroyed, “NARA gave a preliminary response advising EPA that it would recommend the records not be destroyed,” CREW wrote.
  • At that point, the “EPA then appeared to string NARA along by inviting NARA to view the records in person, but claiming that given the coronavirus pandemic they did not have the PPE needed to give NARA access.” Further, “Despite several requests from NARA for updates on the water damaged documents, EPA did not admit that they illegally destroyed the records.”
  • CREW said the documents it obtained did not offer information on the how the situation was resolved.

CREW concluded:

While it is understandable that EPA wanted to destroy the records because they viewed them as a potential hazard, NARA has rules and procedures for contaminated records that EPA should have followed. If an agency can ask for approval to destroy records that they have already destroyed, how can Americans trust their government won’t just destroy records of its own wrongdoing to cover its tracks?

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