Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 6, 2019


Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Lawsuit Seeks Details on Ocean Chief's Oversized Role in Slashing Environmental Protections

NOAA's Lack of Senate-confirmed Administrator Leaves Unaccountable Deputy in Charge

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today for refusing to release public records detailing the activities of Stuart Levenbach, the agency’s chief of staff. The NOAA chief of staff oversees the overall operations of the agency and implements the policy directives and objectives of the administration.

The Center requested the records more than a year ago via the Freedom of Information Act to shed light on the details of the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce protection for the marine environment.

Levenbach was appointed by President Trump as the agency’s chief of staff in January 2018. Because the agency has not had a Senate-confirmed administrator during the entire Trump administration, Levenbach has shaped virtually every significant policy directive on ocean conservation, with no public oversight or accountability.

“Levenbach has worked in the shadows to bring Trump’s disastrous environmental agenda to life,” said Brett Hartl, the Center’s government affairs director. “Under Levenbach’s direction NOAA has pushed to weaken the Endangered Species Act and rubber-stamp seismic exploration for oil along the Atlantic coast, with complete indifference to how it’ll hurt whales and other marine mammals.”

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from other agencies reveal Levenbach’s involvement in White House-level efforts to facilitate offshore drilling and weaken Endangered Species Act protections for marine mammals.

The Center has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests with the agency seeking Levenbach’s schedules and communications beginning April 2018. More than a year later, the agency has failed to provide a single record of Levenbach’s actions.

“Stuart Levenbach is wreaking havoc on our fragile ocean environment behind closed doors,” said Hartl. “The Trump administration is flagrantly violating the sunshine laws and using every trick in the book to keep hiding what’s really happening inside NOAA.”

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.

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