Statement on the Release of Enforcement-Sensitive Documents of the Environmental Protection Agency to the Congress

March 9, 1983

As I have previously stated, I asserted executive privilege with respect to a limited number of EPA documents that were considered to be enforcement-sensitive, because I have a constitutional obligation to the people -- and to those who have held this office in the past and will hold it in the future -- to ensure that the integrity of sensitive law enforcement documents be preserved.

I have recognized also, of course, that the legislative branch has legitimate oversight responsibilities as well. Accordingly, in February, pursuant to the suggestion of the U.S. District Court and consistent with the mandates of history, we sought to work out an agreement to accommodate the legitimate interests of both the executive and legislative branches. This was accomplished by the agreement reached with Chairman Levitas on February 18, 1983, which provided a means for Congress to have complete access to the documents sought.

Although this was accepted as a reasonable compromise by Chairman Levitas and Speaker O'Neill, and we have been proceeding to provide such complete access, other committees have demanded that the documents be physically turned over to them before they would accept the information. The debate on this issue, for our part, has been essentially legal. But it is now clear that prolonging this legal debate can only result in a slowing down of the release of information to the Congress -- thereby fostering suspicion in the public's mind that somehow the important doctrine of executive privilege is being used to shield possible wrongdoing. It is not in the public interest that any such suspicion be fostered.

While we continue to assert executive privilege, our concern is that the Congress have this information as soon as possible, with assurances that the enforcement-sensitive materials will be provided the necessary protection in order that their premature public release will not jeopardize our responsibility to enforce the law. We trust that pursuant to the additional agreement reached today with Chairman Dingell, the documents will be provided that protection. This agreement will be available to any other committee that seeks these EPA documents and is willing to abide by its terms.