EPA Held in Contempt By Judge

By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 2003; Page A10

A federal judge yesterday held the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in contempt for violating his court order by destroying computer hard drives and deleting e-mails of the agency's top officials in the final days of the Clinton administration and beyond.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled that agency officials -- through a mixture of ignorance and "egregious" inattention -- failed to comply with his January 2001 restraining order that the agency preserve and protect its records concerning environmental rules written in the final months before President Bill Clinton was to leave office.

Lamberth's order was issued Jan. 19, 2001, one day before George W. Bush's inauguration. A conservative group, Landmark Legal Foundation, had sued the agency in the fall of 2000 to turn over public documents on the rules.

Then-EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner had her computer hard drive destroyed on the same day the order was issued, the judge found, and deputy administrator W. Michael McCabe deleted e-mails in the days right after. Then general counsel Gary S. Guzy did not alert top officials or staff about the order, nor did the U.S. Attorney's Office, though it was handling the case.

The judge's contempt ruling means the agency will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills incurred by Landmark, which is based in Herndon. Lamberth declined to hold the former EPA officials in contempt. He said there was not sufficient evidence to show that Browner or McCabe knew about the order or that Guzy had a duty to alert his office.


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