For Immediate Release, July 24, 2019

Contact:

Meg Townsend, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6409, mtownsend@biologicaldiversity.org
Sylvia Lam, Environmental Integrity Project, (202) 888-2701, slam@environmentalintegrity.org

Lawsuit Challenges Political Meddling in EPA Public Records Changes

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Integrity Project sued the Trump administration today over sweeping changes to how the Environmental Protection Agency handles public-records requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The EPA’s new rule will take effect Friday.

The lawsuit challenges the EPA rule’s most problematic provisions, which give Trump administration political appointees unprecedented power over whether to release public documents. The lawsuit also challenges the EPA’s new process for accepting public records requests, as well as changes that will further delay agency responses.

“This rule is a shameful attempt to keep Americans in the dark about the Trump administration’s sickening failures to protect our air, water and wildlife,” said Meg Townsend, the Center’s open government attorney. “EPA officials issued this rule without any public comment opportunity because they knew people wouldn’t stand for it. We have a right to know what EPA is trying to hide and which Trump appointee is trying to hide it.”

The EPA published the new FOIA rule June 26 without allowing the public to comment on the changes, improperly claiming that allowing public comment was “not practicable.” This decision drew immediate and bipartisan criticism from members of Congress, who are demanding that EPA reconsider its approach.

“EPA’s rule would let political appointees decide whether or when to release information they are required to disclose by law,” said Sylvia Lam, attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “Not surprisingly, this administration has made that decision without even giving the public a chance to comment on this radical departure from current practice, which is to allow an agency’s expert attorneys to make these legal determinations. The Freedom of Information Act holds government accountable to the governed by letting the public see how decisions are made. EPA’s action strikes a blow at democratic values that are more important today than ever before.”

Public documents obtained through FOIA have revealed disturbing environmental misconduct by the Trump administration, including possible efforts to suppress concerns about a crucial water-quality permit for the proposed PolyMet copper mine in northern Minnesota. The EPA also has a long and controversial history of violating the public-records law by delaying responses to public-document requests or by not responding at all.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of D.C., aims to invalidate the EPA’s new FOIA rule and ensure that the agency does not implement new measures skirting its obligation to provide public information.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.