America Rising, a conservative campaign research group that questions the global and scientific consensus on climate change, has filed at least 20 Freedom of Information Act requests focused on emails from Environmental Protection Agency employees days after the employees were critical of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, President Trump, or Pruitt's direction of the agency, The New York Times reports. Now the EPA has hired a close affiliate of America Rising, Definers Public Affairs, to perform "media monitoring" for the agency, tracking when the EPA is mentioned in the news or on social media.
Allan Blutstein, who works for both America Rising and Definers, told The New York Times he filed the FOIA requests as "more of a fishing expedition" to see if he could find Pruitt or Trump critics inside the EPA who violated agency rules or used the EPA's email system inappropriately. An EPA spokesman said the $120,000 Definers contract is just for media clipping services, not employee surveillance. It's not clear what role Pruitt, who is more secretive and has a much larger security detail than his predecessors, played in the hiring. William K. Reilly, the EPA administrator under George H.W. Bush, said Pruitt is demoralizing his workforce: "This shows complete insensitivity, complete tone-deafness, or something worse."
EPA employees, especially those targeted by the FOIA requests, are a little on edge. "This is a witch hunt against EPA employees who are only trying to protect human health and the environment," Gary Morton, an EPA employee in Philadelphia, tells the Times. "What they are doing is trying to intimidate and bully us into silence." Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a critic of Pruitt, said of all the "nefarious activities from Trump," having the EPA hire "a fossil fuel front group that specializes in political hits and is doing FOIA investigations of your agency's own employees is a new low." You can read more at The New York Times.