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The Corbett administration gives itself a headache with selective transparency

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Had the Corbett administration been more transparent in responding to two environmental nonprofits' Right to Know Law request, it wouldn't have to decide whether to appeal an Office of Open Records ruling that its response was too narrow.

Earthjustice and the Sierra Club sought correspondence about proposed regulations for coal-fired power plants' emissions among Gov. Tom Corbett's office, industry groups, the Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies. The governor's office provided correspondence involving just 13 of 60 employees, Mr. Corbett not among them. The groups appealed to the Office of Open Records, which denied administration claims of exemptions, including attorney-client privilege.

The administration can turn over additional correspondence or appeal to Commonwealth Court.

Patrick Henderson, Corbett's chief of staff and energy executive, says the initial response was limited to make processing the request easier. That's proving shortsighted, as a fuller response then would have prevented the additional headaches the administration now has — and spared taxpayers the resulting additional costs.

Mr. Henderson says the environmental groups are more focused on a political agenda than on dialogue with Corbett's office. No matter the groups' leftist bent, that's an excuse, not a reason. Because the administration responded to their open-records request as it did, it's on the defensive regarding transparency instead of arguing for the merits of its proposed emissions rules — and thereby suffering a setback of its own making for its own agenda.

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