Environmental Defense Fund Sues EPA over Failure to Release Public Records

October 26, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – October 26, 2017) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed a lawsuit today to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to release public records about ethics conflicts, activities of senior leadership, and threats to scientific integrity.

EDF requested the records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as part of our ongoing effort to promote transparency and accountability at EPA and other agencies charged with protecting public health, the environment and natural resources. However, EPA unlawfully failed to respond to the FOIA requests, so today EDF filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  

“As Scott Pruitt’s EPA rolls back vital protections for human health and the environment, the American people have a right to know how those decisions are being made and who’s at the table at the time,” said EDF attorney Ben Levitan. “The records we requested would shed light on many of Pruitt’s policies that pose an unprecedented threat to the health of families and communities across America. EPA’s failure to provide these records reflects the polluter-first approach with which Pruitt has sought to undermine health and environmental safeguards.”

EDF is asking the court to order EPA to produce records responsive to three FOIA requests for which EPA’s statutory deadline for responding is several months overdue:

    • The first request, submitted to EPA more than nine months ago, seeks records pertaining to the assessment of Scott Pruitt’s ethics conflicts after his nomination to head EPA. EDF submitted the request in light of Pruitt’s deep ties to industries that EPA is required to regulate.
    • The third request, submitted to EPA more than seven months ago, seeks records pertaining to interference with scientific research and communications. EDF requested these records in light of the Trump Transition Team’s efforts to single out civil servants at the Department of Energy who worked on climate science and policy.

More information about each of EDF’s FOIA requests is below. 

Tycko & Zavareei LLP is representing EDF on a pro bono basis in this case.

You can find more information about EDF’s FOIA requests on our website


More information about the first request

This FOIA request seeks records concerning the ethics agreement that Pruitt submitted to EPA’s Ethics Official while his nomination was pending. Such records could contain important information about Scott Pruitt’s approach to ethics obligations.

Pruitt’s ethics agreement diverged from standard language in government guidelines and did not preclude Pruitt from participating in decisions about the merits of vital public health and environmental protections against which he had actively litigated, such as the Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Concerns over Pruitt’s ethics conflicts have continued to mount since EDF submitted its FOIA request more than nine months ago, heightening the need for immediate release of these records. 

In August, thirteen state Attorneys General — joined by seven municipalities –submitted a letter to EPA’s Acting General Counsel objecting to a Pruitt guidance letter that expressed a flawed, misleading opinion about a crucial issue in litigation over the Clean Power Plan. The Attorneys General explained that Pruitt’s conduct was “inconsistent with his agreement not to participate in the litigation,” given that he repeatedly sued EPA over the Clean Power Plan when he served as Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Attorneys General for eight states and the District of Columbia also filed formal comments objecting to Pruitt’s involvement in EPA’s proposal to repeal the Clean Water Rule — another safeguard that Pruitt had targeted in litigation. The Attorneys General stated that “a reasonable person would conclude that Administrator Pruitt is not impartial; and the evidence compels the conclusion that he has ‘unalterably closed’ his mind on the matter.” 

More information about the second request:

The minimal scheduling information that EPA has released thus far falls dramatically short of fulfilling this FOIA request by EDF:

    • Available information about Scott Pruitt’s activities is troublingly incomplete. Pruitt only recently began sharing a public calendar, which includes minimal information on his activities. Only a limited date range of his more detailed appointments calendar has been released, and it contains many redactions worthy of additional scrutiny. This information does not include meeting agendas and attendees, call lists, travel-related ethics forms, and other information that EDF expressly requested.
    • For other EPA senior leadership, EPA has not provided any of the requested calendar and schedule information.

The limited scheduling information released so far by EPA has only reinforced concerns that Pruitt is granting privileged access to favored special interests, at the expense of protecting American families. 

More information about the third request:

This FOIA request seeks directives to EPA scientific staff regarding communication about scientific research, as well as any questionnaires meant to identify scientists who have publicly presented their research. 

Earlier this month, EPA canceled presentations about climate change by three agency scientists, demonstrating that interference with scientific communication is ongoing at EPA.

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.