The Obama administration has turned "transparency" from a buzzword to a fuzzword. The latest examples come from the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a transparent government, emails are subject to freedom of information laws. In the Obama government, senior EPA officials have one set of email accounts for transparency, and alias accounts to hide communications that may not be so flattering, such as plans to coordinate policy battles on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund.
While the email scandal spreads from former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to other top officials, the agency's campaign to keep the public in the dark about radical elements of its actual policy agenda continues unabated.
Consider the proposed greenhouse gas rule due to be finalized on April 13th. The rule would forbid new coal-fired power plants from emitting any more carbon than those fired by natural gas. The administration makes it sound like the rule will permit new coal-fired plants, even though in effect, it bans them. That's because no technology exists that would allow one to be built under the proposed rules.
The White House is standing by the controversial approach, denying reports that the rule is likely to be scrapped before the deadline in the face of insurmountable legal challenges.
Fortunately, outright bans aren't so popular these days. Just ask Mayor Bloomberg.
What is the president's actual objective? As he famously said in the 2008 campaign, "If somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can." No ban. But, he added, "It's just that, it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."
That cap and trade ban didn't pan out, so now the president has found another way to ban coal without calling it a ban. That is why the president and his EPA concocted this emission standard. It is window dressing for the ban; a policy equivalent of an alias email account.
If the administration wants to ban coal power plants, it should just come out and say so, and win (or lose) the public policy debate on the merits. But instead, the EPA continues it's duplicitous strategy of essentially keeping two sets of books: palatable emails and pronouncements stay public, while emails with radical activists and unpopular policies are cloaked.
The EPA's hidden agenda is so unpopular that a group of Senate democrats have written a public letter to President Obama calling on him to dial it back.
Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) wrote that the initiative is "unprecedented under the Clean Air Act and will have the unfortunate effect of preventing the construction of new coal plants or the upgrading of existing sources."
They add that if the rule is adopted, it "will effectively ban new state-of-the-art plants from being built."
If President Obama can't win over Senate Democrats, he won't be able to win over the American public. This is why he and his EPA are willing to risk the assertion that his is "the most transparent administration in history." In this administration, transparency is only necessary when it is useful to advance the president's agenda.
The secret emails are just like the sinister plan to ban coal plants without calling it a ban. In both cases, transparency is rendered meaningless, used only as a political weapon to advance an unpopular agenda without being held accountable for it.