Treasury Department officials argued in court Monday that a conservative think tank is not entitled to more than 7,000 agency emails concerning a potential carbon tax, a move Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) called duplicitous and insulting.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) appealed the Treasury Department’s denial of its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the emails.
Treasury in response filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming CEI "is not entitled to the relief requested, or to any other relief whatsoever, and requests that this action be dismissed in its entirely with prejudice and that defendant be given such other relief as this Court deems proper, including costs and disbursements."
CEI senior fellow Christopher Horner said Treasury’s objective "is to tap dance as deep into the policy/political calendar as they can without producing" the emails in question.
Vitter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the Treasury Department’s continued efforts to block disclosure of the emails.
"The two-faced Treasury Department promises Congress it will work in good faith to produce documents relating to the carbon tax, while at the same time urging DOJ to undermine the FOIA request," Vitter said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. "Treasury's apparent duplicity is insulting, and makes a mockery of the president's pledge to be the most transparent administration in history."
The Treasury Department assured Vitter in a Jan. 28 letter that it "is committed to fulfilling its obligations under FOIA" and "is working to respond to its request as expeditiously as possible."
Horner called Treasury’s latest move "a spectacular way of acknowledging that the statements to Sen. Vitter and us have been disingenuous."
CEI filed a FOIA request in August 2012 seeking about 7,300 emails the agency has acknowledged to exist concerning "carbon" from the Treasury Department Office of Environment and Energy.
Treasury failed to respond to the FOIA request within the 20 working day policy, according to CEI. Additionally, the department told the think tank the records were not of significant public interest. Instead, the agency said they would charge at minimum $1,400 to photocopy the electronic records even though the request was for digital content.
CEI sued Treasury in November to compel the agency to release the emails and grant it a fee waiver. Treasury has since reversed course and granted a fee waiver, but it argued in court Monday that CEI’s request should be denied.
Vitter penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner later that month saying he was "troubled" by the claims the agency is using to stonewall a FOIA request.
"Employing such tactics to force a not-for-profit group into an expensive and time-consuming (transparency delaying) process, keeping public records of obvious public interest and policy relevance from scrutiny, is patently without merit," Vitter wrote. "In short, I am deeply concerned that Treasury is employing such tactics, avoiding its obligations under the federal government’s most important ‘transparency’ statute in order to delay disclosure of information the public is owed."
The Treasury Department declined to comment.