The EPA’s moving target 

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) may have just admitted that the EPA’s expenditure of seven years and $110 million dollars cleaning asbestos from Libby, with no way of knowing if the town is clean, was criminal.

But it’s hard to tell for sure.

Since June 2006, the Independent and others have tried to acquire a report filed by former OIG agent Cory Rumple that first called into question EPA’s cleanup of Libby, without success.

On Aug. 8, 2007 the OIG offered its reasons for not complying with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the report by Washington, D.C. non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

According to the response letter OIG sent to PEER, documents pertaining to ongoing criminal investigations are exempt from FOIA, and, “The Rumple document was compiled in the course of, and relates to, an open criminal investigation…”

When the Independent first began asking OIG about Rumple’s investigation in April 2006, an OIG spokesman said the agency did two types of investigations, one for efficiency and one for criminal activity, and that the OIG policy was to neither confirm nor deny the existence of criminal investigations.

The spokesman then refused to confirm or deny the existence of the Rumple investigation. Rumple himself admitted to working as a criminal investigator.

Over time, the OIG has changed its rationale for not releasing information on the investigation or the report it produced. In August 2006 OIG told the Independent that the report did not exist. In October 2006, OIG acknowledged the report’s existence, in response to a FOIA request by the Independent, but said it was an exempt communication between a subordinate and a superior (a reason OIG also used when denying PEER’s request).

On August 6, 2007, in an interview with the Independent, EPA chief Stephen Johnson characterized the OIG’s role in the Libby cleanup as “program evaluation,” which would seem to suggest the agency’s work was an “efficiency” investigation.

Two days later, the target moved again.

PEER director Jeff Ruch says his group will decide this week whether to pursue the Rumple report in court.
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