It seems that no bad deed goes unrewarded by the University of Colorado-Denver. This week, the UCD School of Public Affairs announced that former EPA Region 8 Administrator James Martin will be one of the winners of its 14th Annual Wirth Chair Sustainability Awards. It’s a curious choice, in light of the fact that Mr. Martin resigned from his EPA position last February amidst scandal.
It’s a story we covered on this blog. Mr. Martin used to work in the administration of former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. He was the key player in the implementation of the New Energy Economy. From a Colorado Open Records Act Request, we learned that Mr. Martin conducted almost all his official state business from private email accounts. In 2010, Mr. Martin was tapped by the Obama administration to head EPA Region 8, which has jurisdiction over Colorado. Two years later, we performed a Freedom of Information Act request to discern the extent to which he still conducted public business on private accounts. After being stonewalled by EPA, we sued. In the course of that litigation, Mr. Martin misled the EPA, the Department of Justice, and a federal judge about his use of private emails. Specifically, he told the court that, “I have not used this or any other private email account to conduct EPA business.” It turns out this wasn’t even remotely true. Then he resigned.
Unfortunately for Mr. Martin, his resignation didn’t end his troubles. Both the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee and the House Oversight & Government Reform are engaged in an ongoing investigation into why Martin believed that it was ok to use private emails to conduct public business, and then hide these emails from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Here’s where it gets interesting, because now a chastised Mr. Martin seems intent on throwing his former EPA managers under the bus. Under recent questioning from the Congressional Committees, Mr. Martin passed the blame to his superiors, saying that he “wasn’t aware until very recently of the [EPA’s] strong preference [to only use work e-mail].” Moreover, he said he did not know “until very recently” that e-mails in his non-official account could have been considered federal records and was never instructed that these e-mails should be forwarded to his work account in order to preserve them as records.
Mr. Martin’s account is not terribly believable. After all, he produced his non-official emails in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request; Why, then, would he think that these records are shielded from a Freedom of Information Act request. Also, he’s a lawyer. He should know better. It’s also a self-serving account. He’s basically saying that, ‘It’s not my fault, because I didn’t know (all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding).’
However implausible it is that Mr. Martin thought that using a private account shielded him from transparency laws, his testimony before the Congressional investigators could prove very damning to the EPA. I don’t doubt for a second that Mr. Martin knew what he was doing was wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that EPA higher-ups never instructed him that emails in his non-official account are subject to information requests. FOIA training is supposed to be mandatory. Its absence in the case of Mr. Martin is a further troubling sign of this EPA’s aversion to transparency.
In any case, I’m sure that Mr. Martin will be the first-ever recipient of an Annual Wirth Chair Sustainability Award who is also part of an ongoing Congressional investigation of EPA.