Horner goes be­hind en­emy lines at EPA

Helps Trump team’s tran­si­tion to agency

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

For a decade, he has used open-records laws to pry loose some of the EPA’s se­crets. Now Christo­pher Horner is on the in­side, part of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s land­ing team at the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, pre­par­ing the way for the next ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Per­haps no is­sue will see a greater change Jan. 20 than en­ergy and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy, and the EPA will be the epi­cen­ter of that up­heaval, mov­ing from a lead­er­ship com­mit­ted to global warm­ing sci­ence to a band of skep­tics ea­ger to up­end the past eight years.

It’s the lat­est ev­i­dence that elec­tions have con­se­quences and in some cases ig­nite strange chain re­ac­tions — such as Mr. Horner be­ing posted to the EPA.

Mr. Horner is one of the Trump tran­si­tion’s “land­ing teams,” who are de­ployed to each de­part­ment and agency to learn about the lat­est op­er­a­tions and any in-the­works poli­cies, with the goal of a smooth changeover come Jan. 20.

Some agency tran­si­tions can be friendly, and oth­ers are more hos­tile. The ap­point­ment of Mr. Horner to the nine-mem­ber EPA team sug­gests that will be one of the lat­ter.

It’s an agency he has pur­sued re­lent­lessly. One no­table tar­get was Pres­i­dent Obama’s first EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor, Lisa P. Jack­son, whom he ex­posed as us­ing a se­cret email alias, “Richard Wind­sor,” to con­duct of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment busi­ness. Soon af­ter that rev­e­la­tion, Ms. Jack­son stepped down.

Mr. Horner also has sought to ex­pose what he sees as im­proper ties be­tween en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and the EPA, un­earthing reams of emails show­ing back­door com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in­clud­ing on pri­vate email ad­dresses, be­tween agency big­wigs and ac­tivists plot­ting their next joint pol­icy moves.

All of that has been done from the out­side, us­ing the pow­er­ful but lim­ited Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act to pry loose what he could.

“He’s been look­ing to get into this bank vault over the years, and fi­nally some­body just opened the door up and let him walk in,” said Michael McKenna, a Repub­li­can Party en­ergy strate­gist and friend of Mr. Horner’s who pre­vi­ously worked on the Trump tran­si­tion team.

Mr. Horner de­clined to speak to The Wash­ing­ton Times for this ar­ti­cle, say­ing he was for­bid­den by the tran­si­tion pro­to­cols.

The most re­cent tar­gets in his FOIA bat­tles have been state of­fi­cials — a num­ber of lib­eral at­tor­neys gen­eral who, he says, teamed up with en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists to try to pun­ish cli­mate change skep­tics by launch­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into their ac­tiv­i­ties.

It’s un­clear how EPA em­ploy­ees are re­act­ing to the news that Mr. Horner will be on the in­side and work­ing along­side them. But his crit­ics out­side the agency say they don’t see him as a con­struc­tive force.

“Chris Horner has a his­tory of tar­get­ing in­di­vid­ual sci­en­tists and gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees and, through his years of FOIA work, has sought to pull phrases out of con­text to em­bar­rass peo­ple in lieu of ac­tu­ally im­ple­ment­ing pol­icy,” said Lau­ren Kurtz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cli­mate Sci­ence Le­gal De­fense Fund. “If the goal at EPA is to work on pol­icy so­lu­tions — rather than tar­get in­di­vid­ual civil ser­vants — he is an odd and likely in­ef­fec­tive choice.”

Other en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists ap­pear to have been shocked into si­lence. A num­ber of high-pro­file groups that have bat­tled Mr. Horner over the years have not re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment about his ap­point­ment.

Robert Suss­man, a for­mer high-rank­ing EPA of­fi­cial who now teaches at Ge­orge­town and Yale uni­ver­si­ties, told Green­wire, an en­vi­ron­men­tal trade pub­li­ca­tion, that hav­ing Mr. Horner at the agency was a bad sign of things to come in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Horner’s record is one of deep hos­til­ity to EPA as an in­sti­tu­tion, and his in­volve­ment seems to re­flect an in­qui­si­tional mind­set and not a re­spect­ful hand­off from one ad­min­is­tra­tion to another,” Mr. Suss­man told the pub­li­ca­tion.

He also blasted Mr. Horner’s con­clu­sions over Ms. Jack­son’s use of her email alias, call­ing it a “le­git­i­mate and ac­cepted prac­tice.”

Mr. Suss­man didn’t re­spond to an email in­quiry from The Times.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors be­fore Ms. Jack­son did use se­condary email ac­counts to con­duct their busi­ness, but there is no ev­i­dence that any of them tried to hide their iden­tity be­hind false ac­counts as Ms. Jack­son did. In one in­stance, re­ported by The Times in 2013, Ms. Jack­son pre­tended that “Richard Wind­sor” was an aide and en­gaged in a full con­ver­sa­tion as “Wind­sor” promis­ing to get a mes­sage to Ms. Jack­son.

An ef­fort to reach Ms. Jack­son by email last week was un­suc­cess­ful.

Mr. McKenna said Mr. Horner’s bat­tles at the EPA were never with rank-and-file em­ploy­ees, but rather with the po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees at the top who drove the agency’s ef­forts to ex­tend its reg­u­la­tory reach to new cor­ners of the Amer­i­can econ­omy.

“The ca­reer peo­ple at the EPA are gen­er­ally good folks. The po­lit­i­cal ap­pa­ratchiks at EPA — their day of reck­on­ing is at hand,” Mr. McKenna said.

Land­ing par­ties are stan­dard prac­tice in tran­si­tions. They are made up of peo­ple with in­ter­est and knowl­edge in an agency’s area of prac­tice.

Both sides sign agree­ments promis­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity so nei­ther side can med­dle in the other’s plans.

Horner

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